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Sabauddin and Faheem: the 26/11 accused who never were

When the Supreme Court upheld the death sentence for Mohammed Ajmal Kasab for his involvement in the November 2008 terror strikes, it also upheld the trial court's order to acquit Faheem Ansari and Sabauddin Ahmed, two alleged terror operatives who were accused of preparing maps that were allegedly used by the gunmen.

So who are Fahim Ansari and Sabauddin Ahmed? Alleged Lashkar-e-Taiba operatives who were accused in a case of attacking a CRPF camp in Uttar Pradesh in 2008, the duo were accused of orchestrating the collection of data that was used by the gunmen who participated in the terror strikes.

 Sabauddin and Faheem: the 26/11 accused who never were

Faheem Ansari being brought to the trial in the 26 November, 2008 terror strikes. AFP

According to the prosecution, the duo prepared maps that were handed over to each group of the gunmen and the maps depicted the route from areas like Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus to other locations like Malabar Hill in south Mumbai, where the state Chief Minister's residence is located.

Faheem was accused of making handmade maps of locations in south Mumbai and then travelling to Nepal to hand over the maps to Sabauddin. What was this based on? According to the police, a friend of Faheem's had gone to Nepal, met him there and then went to a hotel room with him where he saw the maps being handed over to Sabauddin.

Accused of being part of the conspiracy to attack Mumbai from the initial planning stages, Faheem was said to have a Pakistani passport in a fake name. Maps that were recovered from one of the slain gunmen's bodies were said to have been the same as those prepared by Faheem and sent forward to Pakistani groups by Sabauddin.

However, the prosecution never had a good argument, about how either of them managed to get a layout of the Taj Hotel or Hotel Trident. That was later understood when the case of David Headley surfaced and investigating agencies realised they were looking in the wrong continent for the sources of information.

However, the courts have been unsparing in pointing out the shortcomings of the investigating authorities in attempting to prove the guilt of the duo in this case.

"On the contrary almost all the pieces of evidence to connect the accused Nos.2 (Faheem) and 3 (Ansari) with the alleged offences are found to be doubtful and tainted. No doubt the charge of conspiracy is hard to be proved by direct evidence. In most of the cases charge of conspiracy is normally proved on the basis of circumstances and inferences. However, circumstantial evidence has to be strong enough to inspire confidence in mind of the court," Special court judge ML Tahaliyani had observed while acquitting them.

The court also observed that there was no need for the gunmen to rely on hand drawn maps when there was far better technology available on the internet.

"This also does not appeal to the reason particularly when the better coloured maps can be down loaded and prints can be taken out from the various Web sites like google earth and Wiki Mapia...." the court observed.

Providing detailed reasons for acquitting the duo the court observed that the benefit of doubt had to be given to the accused and acquitted them.

After going through the detailed argument by the trial court, the high court also endorsed it and dismissed the state government's appeal against Faheem and Sabauddin. However, the court said it's judgement was no indication of its opinion on the other cases pending against the duo.

"Nothing said by us in this judgment may be treated as our expression of opinion on the merits of those cases. The court seized of those cases shall dispose them of, independently in accordance with law," the high court observed while disposing of the state appeal against the trial court's judgement.

The Supreme Court has reaffirmed the trial court verdict again today.

Sabauddin and Faheem may be guilty of other crimes and conspiracies but not of being involved in the terror strikes of November 26. It is perhaps a valuable lesson for investigating agencies for the future.

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Updated Date: Aug 29, 2012 13:56:55 IST

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