‘No circumstantial evidence to corroborate testimonies'
In a blow to the prosecution's case against Fahim Ansari and Sabahuddin Ahmed, the two Indians accused in the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks case, the court rejected the evidence against them and acquitted them of “all the charges framed against them. They shall be released from prison if not required in any other case.”
The two had been respectively accused of making and transferring the maps of target locations in Mumbai. Both were indicted by the prosecution in the criminal conspiracy of the 26/11 attacks.
Ansari's lawyer Shahid Azmi was murdered during the course of the trial, after which advocate R.B. Mokashi represented him.
Stating that the evidence against Ansari and Sabahuddin was “highly doubtful,” Judge M.L. Tahaliyani said: “The benefit of the doubt must be given to accused 2 and 3.”
The court rejected the evidence of Nuruddin Shaikh, the key eyewitness against Ansari and Sabahuddin. Mr. Shaikh claimed to have witnessed an exchange of maps between the two accused in Nepal.
The court observed: “There was no other evidence [of his visit to Nepal] except his oral evidence. No evidence was collected from the Sonali check-post [on the Indo-Nepal border].”
Furthermore, the prosecution did not seek to corroborate Mr. Sheikh's testimony by examining his friend Bharat Thakur, with whom he claimed to have visited Nepal. “I don't think it was difficult for the prosecution to do that,” the court opined. It called into question the quality and quantity of evidence.
“The evidence suffers from many infirmities. It does not inspire confidence in me that he [Mr. Sheikh] ever saw accused 2 and 3. It is doubtful whether he ever went to Nepal. His evidence is rejected,” the court said.
In a similar manner, the court rejected the evidence of witness Vivek Saxena, manager of the institute, where Fahim was purportedly enrolled and the another testimony pertaining to the accommodation rented by Fahim.
The court took note of Mr. Mokashi's argument that the map recovered from deceased accused Abu Ismail's pocket had no folds or stains. Given that Ismail's pocket was bloodstained the map too should have been stained, Mr. Tahaliyani said.
He also referred to the cross examination of Mr. Azmi who had brought to light the difference of ink between two ‘panchanamas' and between the signatures of a senior police inspector on them.
Rejecting the prosecution's map theory entirely, the court observed: “With the advanced technology available, I don't think they [attackers and conspirators] would have gone for these maps, which are more confusing than helpful. Google Earth and Wikipedia maps are so nice and have excellent prints.”
Mr. Tahaliyani further went on to opine, “According to me, Kasab and Ismail were never assigned to go to Chowpatty. They were assigned to go to CST and by mistake they took the foot over-bridge which led them to Cama hospital. The map theory does not fit in the scheme of things of the conspirators.”
The court indicated that the operation at Cama hospital led by Additional Commissioner of Police Sadanand Date would have ended much earlier. However, there was a “delay” in the arrival of additional forces, the reason for which “I would no go into,” Mr. Tahaliyani said.
The court told Special Public Prosecutor Ujjwal Nikam that the evidence “falls short of the standards” set by the Supreme Court and therefore “cannot be accepted.”
Nikam will appeal
Mr. Nikam expressed his displeasure with the acquittal. Refuting the charge a “weak” case against the two accused, he told reporters later, “They [Fahim and Sabahuddin] were not honourably released, but the court gave them the benefit of the doubt. The court did not appreciate the chain of evidence. I don't agree with the court's finding. We will definitely challenge this verdict.”
Sabahuddin's lawyer hailed the verdict.