India hangs Yakub Memon for role in 1993 Mumbai bombings
India carried out a rare execution Thursday, hanging a 53-year-old man on his birthday for his role in a deadly 1993 bombing rampage.
Yakub Memon was put to death at a jail in Nagpur, in central India, hours after India’s president rejected his last-ditch plea for clemency and the country’s Supreme Court refused an appeal to delay the execution by 14 days.
Memon, an accountant, was convicted in 2007 of helping raise funds for the attack in Mumbai, in which 13 bombs ripped through hotels, bazaars and the stock exchange in India’s financial capital, then known as Bombay. He was the younger brother of Mushtaq “Tiger” Memon, one of the suspected masterminds of the bombings, a fugitive believed to be in neighboring Pakistan.
The execution came as controversy flared over the country’s use of capital punishment. In recent days, prominent Indians including politicians, former Supreme Court judges and actors had called for Memon to be spared the death penalty, arguing that he was being made a scapegoat because authorities could not capture his brother or the other alleged plotter, Dawood Ibrahim, a notorious crime boss also believed to be in Pakistan.
Advocates of clemency also said that according to accounts given by former intelligence officials, Memon, who spent more than two decades in jail, turned himself in to Indian authorities in Katmandu, Nepal, and cooperated in the investigation.
“This execution will not deliver justice for the 1993 Mumbai blasts,” said Amnesty International’s India director, Aakar Patel. “It is a misguided attempt to prevent terrorism and a disappointing use of the criminal justice system as a tool for retribution.”
Indian officials, who have asserted that Memon did not surrender but was arrested in New Delhi, said justice was served.
“Full access to justice has been given to the convict,” Atty. Gen. Mukul Rohatgi told India’s NDTV. “He was convicted of a heinous crime.”
India has handed down more than 1,600 death sentences since 2000, among the most of the approximately 55 countries that use capital punishment. But it has carried out only three executions in the last decade, all in terrorism cases.
Two years ago, the Supreme Court commuted the death sentences of 10 men convicted of planting the bombs, ruling they were pawns of the main conspirators.
Rohatgi rejected calls to scrap the death penalty, invoking the threat of terrorism just days after militants killed six people in the state of Punjab, near India’s restive border with Pakistan.
“In the present scenario in which India is placed, with all kinds of hostile neighbors, with attacks and terror around the corner every day, it is not appropriate to do away with the death penalty,” Rohatgi said.
The 1993 bombings in Mumbai were reportedly carried out to avenge the destruction months earlier of a 16th century mosque in Ayodhya, in northern India, by Hindu extremists. The mosque attack sparked sectarian riots in Mumbai and other Indian cities that left hundreds dead, mainly Muslims.
Kirti Ajmera, a stockbroker who was severely injured in the bombing at the stock exchange, said hours before Memon was hanged that he supported the decision. Now 59, Ajmera said the blast broke his ribs and forced him to undergo about 20 surgeries that have cost him thousands of dollars.
“I do believe it is the right verdict. He deserves to be hanged,” Ajmera said. “But the sense of closure would come when Dawood and Tiger are brought back and hanged.”
Thousands of police were deployed as crowds deluged the street outside Memon’s home in central Mumbai, where his family was waiting to receive his body for burial. As the body arrived, escorted by police vehicles, onlookers snapped pictures and peered from balconies.
An ambulance then carried the body toward a large burial ground in the south of the city, trailed by onlookers riding motorcycles. Inside the burial ground, many Muslims gathered for a glimpse of the body being laid to rest, and expressed anger at what they called a lack of fairness for Muslim riot victims.
“This is not justice,” said Mohammad Iqbal, 57, a tailor who stood near Memon’s house. He said that Muslims, who make up about 14% of India’s 1.2 billion people but a disproportionately large share of death row inmates, were “being targeted.”
“If the culprits who instigated the riots that happened before the blasts had been nabbed, I would have not complained,” Iqbal said. “They cannot bring back Dawood and Tiger. So [Memon] is punished for their crimes.”
Parth M.N. is a special correspondent.
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