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Four Islamic militants convicted in bombing outside consulate

Tuesday, April 15, 2003

KARACHI, Pakistan -- An anti-terrorism court on Monday convicted four members of an outlawed Islamic militant group of orchestrating a truck bombing outside the U.S. Consulate in Karachi last year that killed 12 Pakistanis.

Two defendants were sentenced to death by hanging and two were sentenced to life in prison. All four remained defiant after the verdict, and one called his sentence "a blessing."

The June 14 bombing, which also wounded 43 people, was one of several aimed at foreigners and Pakistan's small Christian minority. It was believed to be retaliation for the government's alliance with the United States in the war against the al-Qaida terrorist network and Afghanistan's hardline Taliban regime.

The court sentenced Mohammed Imran and Mohammed Hanif to death by hanging. Mohammed Sharib and Mufti Zubair were sentenced to life in prison, while a fifth defendant, Mohammed Ashraf, was acquitted. The four convicted men also were fined about $9,000 each.

The men, believed to be members of the militant group Harkat-ul-Mujahedeen al-Almi, were defiant. Imran and Hanif made the V-for-victory sign with their hands and passed out sweets to their lawyers, who promised to appeal.

"I am satisfied," Imran said. "This death sentence is a blessing for me, although our deaths have been planned by the government to please America."

Hanif added, "All infidels of the world are united under the banner of America to eliminate Muslims."

Security was tight at the trial, held inside the walls of a maximum-security prison where the accused were being held. Sharpshooters stood guard from nearby buildings and authorities placed two mounted machine guns outside the prison entrance.

Hanif's lawyer, Abdul Waheed Katpar, said his client's harsh sentence was unfair.

"The verdict itself is contradictory. If there was evidence against one, there was evidence against all, yet my client got the death penalty while others got life and one man was acquitted," he told The Associated Press. "This is a faulty judgment and I will file an appeal tomorrow."

The verdict relied on the confessions of Hanif and Imran, who later recanted and said police forced them to implicate themselves.

It also depended on the testimony of two witnesses, who said that shortly before the explosion, they saw the four defendants embrace the driver of the vehicle that later blew up.

The explosives-packed truck detonated outside the high walls of the consulate but did not penetrate the facility's defenses. The victims were all passers-by and security officials.

The bombing occurred a month after another car bomb exploded outside the nearby Sheraton Hotel in Karachi, killing 11 French naval engineers who were in Pakistan to help build a submarine for the military.

Many radical Islamic groups in Pakistan have been angered by President Pervez Musharraf's support for the U.S.-led war against terrorism in Afghanistan.

Musharraf, who seized power in a 1999 bloodless coup, escaped two assassination plots in 2002, both supposedly planned by Harkat-ul-Mujahedeen al-Almi, which is an offshoot of an Islamic militant group opposed to India's rule in the disputed Kashmir region.


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