Attack planners face death penalty

AN Indian anti-terrorism court yesterday convicted four people, including a New Delhi college lecturer, over last December’s attack on parliament which almost triggered a war with Pakistan.

Three of those found guilty, including the Arabic lecturer, were charged with attempting to kill the prime minister, the interior minister and lawmakers by helping the attackers prepare for the raid. They face the death penalty.

“I hold three persons guilty for waging war against the state,” Judge SN Dhingra told a packed courtroom. The fourth, the wife of one of the three, was convicted of criminal conspiracy. All the sentences are to be announced today.

Five gunmen stormed India’s parliament complex on December 13 last year and killed nine people, most of them security guards, before they were shot dead. India blamed Pakistan for the attack and the nuclear-armed neighbours mobilised their armies along the border.

Police say two of those found guilty are members of the Pakistan-based guerrilla group Jaish-e-Mohammad fighting Indian rule in disputed Kashmir.

The two, Mohammad Afzal and Shaukat Hussain, were picked up by police in Srinagar, summer capital of India’s Jammu and Kashmir state, two days after the attack.

Hussain’s wife Navjot Sandhu and the lecturer Abdul Rehman Geelani were arrested in New Delhi the same day.

All four pleaded not guilty. But police said the three men confessed to their involvement while in custody and the confession was produced as evidence in the court under a special anti-terrorism law.

Three others have been charged over the raid but remain at large, including Jaish founder Maulana Masood Azhar who was last week freed from house arrest by a court in Pakistan.

Pakistan outlawed Jaish a year ago for fighting Indian rule in Jammu and Kashmir and Masood was placed under house arrest in the Punjabi city of Bahawalpur in December, 2001.

He is one of three Muslim guerrillas India freed in December, 1999, in return for the release of passengers of an Indian Airlines plane hijacked en route to New Delhi from Nepal and flown to Afghanistan.

India blames Pakistan for arming and training Kashmiri militants, charges Islamabad denies, and the neighbours, on alert since the parliament raid, came close to war in June after militants attacked an army camp in Kashmir in May.

After frantic diplomatic efforts led by the United States, the nuclear neighbours have started withdrawing troops from the border, except in Kashmir.

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