World | Asia

July 30, 2015

India Executes Yakub Memon, Man Tied to 1993 Mumbai Bombings

Yakub Memon, the “driving spirit” behind a series of bombings in Mumbai that killed 257 people in 1993, was hanged early Thursday morning at a prison in central India.
Demonstrations this week opposed to the execution.

Demonstrations this week opposed to the execution.

The bombings, a carefully coordinated series of a dozen explosions across the city, stunned India because of their level of sophistication and their unprecedented carnage. In addition to the dead, more than 700 people were injured and several neighborhoods were left in smoking ruins.

According to prosecutors, Mr. Memon was the bomb plot’s indispensable middleman, the one who arranged financing, made travel plans, stockpiled weapons and bought vehicles for car bombs. Of all those who have been convicted of crimes related to the bombings, including the men who planted the bombs, Mr. Memon is the only defendant to be executed.

As is the norm in India, journalists were not allowed to witness the execution, which was carried out at the Central Prison in the city of Nagpur. Under prison procedures, the condemned is typically offered a bath, a final meal, fresh clothes and a chance to pray before going to the gallows. Although death sentences are routinely imposed in India, actual executions are rare. Mr. Memon was only the fourth person executed in India since 2000.

He was hanged before 7 a.m. on his 53rd birthday.

While there was no immediate official confirmation, Mr. Memon’s death was widely reported by Indian news outlets citing government sources.

The execution took place amid tightened security, especially in towns and cities with large Muslim populations. The security measures reflected official concern that the execution of Mr. Memon, a Muslim in a predominantly Hindu nation, could serve as a flash point for religious strife and score-settling — the same dynamic present in the Mumbai bombings.

On March 12, 1993, over the span of a few hours, bombs exploded one after another at different locations around Mumbai, including the Bombay Stock Exchange, a movie theater, an Air India building, several hotels and two crowded markets. Prosecutors have said the bombings were intended to avenge the destruction of a 16th-century Muslim holy site, the Babri Mosque, which was torn down in December 1992 by a mob of militant Hindu nationalists intent on building a temple in its place. The mosque’s destruction touched off riots across India that left more than 1,000 people dead, most of them Muslims.

Over the past week, as the execution approached, a robust debate erupted here over whether Mr. Memon deserved to die. That debate gathered strength on Wednesday as India’s president rejected his final plea for mercy. By late Wednesday night, several hundred people opposed to Mr. Memon’s execution had gathered for a candlelight vigil at Jantar Mantar, a giant sundial that is this city’s preferred rallying point for public protest. Not until 5 a.m. on Thursday did India’s Supreme Court deny Mr. Memon’s final appeal.

The debate was fueled by last-minute questions about Mr. Memon’s supposed cooperation with investigators, by concerns about the treatment of Muslim defendants in India’s courts and by the uncontested fact that the actual masterminds of the bombings remain at large.

This week, as Mr. Memon’s execution began to appear more likely, Muslim leaders and some legal experts argued with increasing vehemence that India’s death penalty was applied more aggressively against Muslims and other minority groups.

“Yes, Yakub was involved, but he did not deserve capital punishment,” Asaduddin Owaisi, a Muslim member of India’s Parliament, told reporters here on Wednesday. He cited cases of non-Muslim defendants convicted of heinous crimes who have avoided execution. The debate even embroiled Salman Khan, one of India’s biggest movie stars, who on Sunday posted a series of messages on Twitter that seemed to imply that Mr. Memon was being hanged for the crimes of his older brother, Ibrahim (Tiger) Memon, who prosecutors say is one of the masterminds still at large. “Brother is being hanged for Tiger,” Mr. Khan wrote, only to retract his posts a short while later after facing heavy criticism, including from his father.

“I haven’t said or implied that Yakub is innocent,” Mr. Khan wrote in a clarification Twitter post. “I have complete faith in the judicial system.”

But perhaps the oddest twist came in the form of an article by a former senior intelligence official for India who said he played a key role in bringing Mr. Memon back to India in 1994 to face trial.

The retired intelligence official, B. Raman, had been a regular columnist for an Indian website, Rediff, until his death in 2013. According to the website, Mr. Raman wrote a column about Mr. Memon in 2007, but then had second thoughts and asked that it not be published because he did not want to undermine other convictions in the bombing case.

The website went ahead and published the column last week. In it, Mr. Raman wrote that there was “not an iota of doubt” about Mr. Memon’s guilt and that under “normal circumstances” he would deserve to hang. But, he added, Mr. Memon had cooperated extensively with investigators. His willingness to cough up details about the plot, and to persuade other members of his family to cooperate, was “a strong mitigating circumstance,” Mr. Raman wrote.

“There is a strong case for having second thoughts about the suitability of the death penalty.”

The extent of Mr. Memon’s cooperation is very much in dispute. P. D. Kode, the judge who tried and sentenced Mr. Memon, told The Times of India that the “theory of Yakub’s surrender was never established” and that “Yakub never gave any details of the surrender or details of any deal that was offered to him.”

Text by The New York Times
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