Ten years after a series of bombs exploded in Malegaon killing 37 people, a special court today dropped charges against eight Muslim youths due to lack of evidence against them.
The accused, including two doctors, were discharged by V V Patil, Designated Judge trying cases under Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act (MCOCA).
The serial bomb blasts outside a cemetry near Hamidia Mosque at Malegaon, near Nashik, on September 8, 2006, also left over 100 persons injured.
Bombs were planted on bicycles parked near the cemetry and they went off after Friday prayers at the Mosque on the occasion of Shab-e-Baraat.
Hailing the verdict, Farok Makhdoom, a doctor and an accused who argued personally in the court, said, "I was never scared of conviction because I am innocent. There was lot of evidence to prove that I was not involved in the case."
Nine accused, suspected to have links with Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI), were initially arrested in the case and chargesheeted by the Maharashtra Anti Terrorism Squad (ATS). One of them died while the case was pending. Four others, including a Pakistan national, are absconding.
Later, CBI, which took over investigations, also confirmed the charges against them.
Subsequently, in 2011, NIA was asked to probe the case and the agency arrested another set of people belonging to the majority community, who continue to be accused in the case.
However, the case took a turn when Swami Assemanand, an accused in the 2007 Mecca Masjis bombing case, allegedly revealed to the probe agency about the role of a Hindu right wing outfit in the 2006 Malagaon blasts case.
Thereafter, NIA told the court that it had no evidence against the nine accused in the case.
Another serial blasts had rocked Malegaon in 2008 in which ATS led by late Hemant Karkare allegedly found the involvement of a Hindu right wing outfit.
Hearing the 2006 case, the judge said that he was accepting the discharge application filed by the 8 accused as there was no evidence to prove their guilt.
All the eight accused discharged from the case were on bail and had come to the court today to hear the verdict on their plea.
As soon as the judge pronounced the order, tears trickled down their cheeks and faces brightened up with smile and hugged their kith and kin who were accompanying them.
The NIA informed the court that evidence collected by it -- after further investigation in the case -- was not in consonance with the evidence collected earlier by ATS and CBI.
"No evidence was found in support of conclusion drawn in the final report filed by ATS and supplementary final report submitted by CBI recommending prosecution of the nine accused," NIA said and urged the court to pass appropriate orders in view of its submission.
Of the nine accused hailing from the powerloom town OF Malegaon, eight, including two doctors, applied for discharge from the case saying the court had powers to free them from the charges framed against them even before the trial.
One accused had passed away while the case was pending. The charges against him would be abated.
They were charged under various sections of IPC such as 120(b)(Conspiracy), 302 (murder) and 307 (attempt to murder) and under Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA sections 3 (unlawful Association) and 7 (power to use funds of an unlawful organisation). Besides, they also faced charges under the provisions of Maharasthra Control of Organised Crime Act.
Four others --Riaz Ahmed Rafi Ahmed, Istiyak Ahmed Mohammed Issak, Munwar Ahmed Mohammed Amin and Muzammil (from Pakistan) -- are absconding. They would be tried as and when they are caught, said the public prosecutor.
The eight accused, who have been set free, would not face the trial in the case, which is yet to begin.
They are Narul Hooda Samsuda, Raes Ahmed Rajab Ali Mansoori, Dr Salman Farsi Abdul, Dr Farok Iqbal Ahmed Mukdoomi, Shaikh Mohammed Ali Alam Anamat Ali Shaikh, Asif Khan Bashir Khan, Mohammed Jahid Abdul Majid Ansari and Abrar Ahmed Ghulam Ahmed.
The NIA has arrested another set of accused in this case. They are Manohar Nariwala alias Sumer Thakur, Rajendra Chowdhary alias Dashrath, Dhan Singh and Lokesh Sharma.
The Malegaon bombings were a series of blasts that took place on September 8, 2006, in Malegaon, a town in Nashik district of Maharashtra, located about 290 kms from Mumbai.
The explosions - which resulted in death of 37 persons besides injuring another 125 - occurred near the cemetery at around 1.15 p.M after the Friday prayers.
A stampede ensued after the explosions. Curfew was imposed in the town and state paramilitaries were deployed in sensitive areas to prevent unrest.
"We are happy..Our family suffered and so did I. While NIA probe was in the right direction, ATS investigation was faulty," said Salman Parth Abdul, another doctor and one of the accused set free by the court today.
"All accusations against us were false and the investigation agencies should learn a lesson from our discharge in the case," he said.
Another accused, Raes Ahmed Rajad Ali, said, "at last we got justice after spending five and a half years in jail. I am very happy over my release as Justice has prevailed.
Gulzar Azmi, Secretary of Jamait-Ulema (Maharashtra), which provided legal aid to the discharged accused, said "We believe in the country's judicial system which resulted in the discharge of accused due to lack of evidence."
Defence advocate Shahid Nadeem, who appeared on behalf of some of the accused, said, "it appeared that false charges were levelled against the discharged persons and hence the case against them collapsed."
Welcoming the verdict, NCP MLA Asif Shaikh from Malegaon demanded that ATS officials be punished for framing the youths in the case.
"I demand that action be taken against the investigating ATS officers for framing the youths in the case and ruining their lives by keeping them in jail," said Shaikh.