Hanging on

Yakub Memon questions the validity of the death warrant against him

Although he has barely a week left to live according to the death warrant issued against him, Yakub Memon is not ready to give up. Things looked bleak for him on July 21, when a division bench of the Supreme Court headed by Chief Justice H.L. Dattu rejected his curative petition, which sought to commute his death sentence to life imprisonment in the 1993 Bombay blasts case. The blasts were carried out by members of the underworld gang of the notorious fugitive Dawood Ibrahim, and Yakub was closer to becoming the first convict to hang in the case.

However, following Yakub's mercy petition to the governor of Maharashtra, submitted through officials at the Central Prison in Nagpur where he is lodged, there could be a delay in his execution, scheduled for July 30. The Maharashtra government is said to be seeking expert legal opinion to “settle” the matter conclusively. Yakub, meanwhile, moved the Supreme Court on July 23, arguing that his death warrant issued by a special court under the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act (TADA) on April 29 was untenable. He said the warrant was issued even as his curative petition was pending before the Supreme Court, and therefore it went against the principles of natural justice.


The death sentence on Yakub, a chartered accountant with an intellectual streak, is interpreted by most observers as a message to Dawood, his brother Anees, Yakub's brother Tiger (Mushtaq) Memon and Javed Chikna, who were the masterminds of the serial bombings which shook Bombay on the afternoon of March 12, 1993. The role of Dawood in the attacks has been a sore point in India-Pakistan relations all these years and India accuses Pakistan of sheltering him. Indian intelligence agencies say the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Pakistan's spy agency, “worked with Dawood” on the attacks.

Viewed against the backdrop of the enormous amount of planning behind the attacks, in which 257 people were killed and thousands were injured, the rejection of Yakub's curative petition seemed natural. The Supreme Court said the petition did not mean much as the principles of natural justice were not violated in Yakub's case. The main charge against him was that he took part in a meeting held in Dubai in January 1993, in which the rough contours of the attack were worked out. Dawood, Anees, Tiger and a few ISI officers were present at the meeting.

Yakub was instrumental, although not always directly, in ensuring the safe custody of the weapons shipped to Bombay to be used in the attacks. He stayed in touch with the instigators, sympathisers and active participants, who worked in tandem to ensure the success of the attacks.

Yakub was also responsible for the selection of targets. Mahim's Fisherman's Colony, Hotel Sea Rock in Juhu, Century Bazaar in Worli, Air India headquarters in Colaba, Zaveri Bazaar and Sena Bhavan were chosen after Dawood and Tiger had repeated exchanges with Yakub and a few others in Bombay. According to security officials, the attacks, in which multiple targets were hit simultaneously, saw large quantities of RDX being used for terrorist activities for the first time in India.

Yakub made sure that the money sent to Bombay ahead of the blasts was used effectively. He oversaw the entire financial side of the operation. He was also involved in the distribution of explosives and weapons to “those concerned”.

The Indian security establishment believes that the ISI “pressured” Dawood into harnessing his criminal infrastructure in Bombay to facilitate a terrorist strike on the city. A handful of Dawood's men, in fact, travelled to Pakistan for training in handling weapons and explosives. Despite his initial hesitation, Dawood succumbed to the intense persuasion by the ISI and joined hands with it to strike against his hometown.

Yakub has been fighting a losing battle to prove that his role was peripheral in the overall scheme of things. His counsel Jaspal Singh said the fact that he surrendered on his own volition was “proof of his innocence”. But special public prosecutor Ujjwal Nikam said Yakub did not surrender, but was picked up from the Kathmandu airport by Indian officials in 1994. The special trial judge P.D. Kode, too, noted that the point about Yakub's surrender had not been established.

Tiger had advised Yakub against returning to India. While Tiger is said to be alive and well, Yakub's fate hangs in the balance as Governor C. Vidyasagar Rao and the Supreme Court take up his pleas one more time.

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