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Suspect convicted for role in 1993 terrorist blasts in India

NEW DELHI—More than 13 years after the deadliest terrorist incident in Indian history, a court in Mumbai handed down the first major conviction in the case Thursday.

Judge Pramod Kode found Mohammed Shoaib Ghansar guilty of parking an explosives-laden scooter in Zaveri Bazaar, the city's bustling jewelry district. That explosion, which killed 17 people and injured 57, was one of 10 bombs set off over two hours that killed 257 people in Mumbai on March 12, 1993.

Prosecutors are expected to seek the death penalty for Ghansar for a day of mayhem that's considered the starting point for subsequent years of Islamist violence.

The case already has spawned India's largest and longest trial. A total of 123 people are in the dock, 29 of whom—including Ghansar—have been held without bail for 13 years.

More than 600 witnesses were called; 11 defendants have died since the trial began in June 1995.

The complexity of the case has slowed the wheels of justice, but there also have been long procedural disputes.

Many advocates of judicial reform cite the trial as a case study in what ails India's justice system. The Times of India, a leading English-language newspaper, called the slow pace of justice "a grim reminder of the failure of our investigating agencies and judicial system."

Even the pronouncements of verdicts, expected to take at least a month, won't mark an end to the proceedings. The defendants are certain to appeal. Sentencing will come later still. Moreover, the alleged masterminds remain at large; those on trial are the foot soldiers accused of carrying out the attacks.

The proceedings have lasted so long that the blasts, which happened two weeks after the first World Trade Center bombing, seem from a different time.

Many of the accused allegedly were bit players in what authorities say was a Muslim-dominated smuggling ring. Their alleged local boss, Tiger Memon, flew to Dubai before the attacks and remains at large. Indian investigators have charged Memon and Dawood Ibrahim, the alleged head of the crime syndicate known as D Company, with orchestrating the blasts. Both men are thought to be outside India, possibly in Pakistan.

"When justice is fully done in this installment of the Mumbai blasts case, it will be far from complete justice," opined The Hindu, another major English-language newspaper.

The gang allegedly planned the attacks to avenge the acts of an increasingly militant Hindu nationalist movement, which destroyed a mosque, Babri Masjid, in December 1992, and killed hundreds of Muslims in ensuing riots. A few hundred Hindus died, but Muslims bore the brunt of the violence.

Ghansar's cousin appears to have roped him into the plot a day before the blasts, said S. Hussain Zaidi, the author of the book "Black Friday: The True Story of the Bombay Bomb Blasts." Now Ghansar may be hanged.

The trial's reach extends to a major Bollywood movie star, Sanjay Dutt, who's basking in the glory of his latest hit, "Carry on, Little Brother," while awaiting his verdict. He wasn't directly implicated in the attacks, but is accused of receiving a Kalashnikov rifle from a cache used in the attacks.

The case is a reminder that India's Hindu-Muslim rivalry is unlikely to end soon. While the country's Hindus and Muslims had clashed violently in the past, the Mumbai blasts marked the first time that Muslims resorted to terrorism, though perhaps not the last. Two months ago, at least 186 commuters died in bombings of rush-hour trains in Mumbai in which Muslims are suspected.

"This started the process of jihadi terror, which we have been having regularly since then," said Bahukutumbi Raman, who was India's counterterrorism chief in 1993. Islamic militants often refer to their activity as jihad, or holy war.

For Muslims, the trial's outcome is unlikely to bring a sense of closure. Human rights activist Teesta Setalvad noted that nobody has been held responsible for the anti-Muslim violence that took place after the Babri Masjid mosque was destroyed.

"Because a section of Muslims felt so disillusioned that the state was not looking after them, they turned to the underworld, which perpetrated the attack," she said.

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(c) 2006, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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