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28 years after Bombay serial blasts, Pakistan-backed Dawood Ibrahim still roams free

The front page of The Hindustan Times announcing the attack on Mumbai (Courtesy: The Hindustan Times)

On March 12 as many as 28 years will have passed to the day, marking one of the biggest terror attacks that rocked India’s commercial capital Bombay claiming 257 innocent lives and leaving more than 700 injured in its bloody trail.  However, in what is also the biggest travesty of justice, the  mastermind of this heinous crime against humankind, Dawood Ibrahim is still at large enjoying the hospitality of Pakistan.

It was on 12 March, 1993 that a series of bomb blasts ripped through several parts of Bombay. The explosions were the largest coordinated terror attack to be conducted on Indian soil. It was also the first terror attack in which RDX was used as an explosive. Since then, a lot has changed. Bombay has become Mumbai.

What I do have is the memory lens of a reporter who had a ringside view of the terrible tragedy that struck Bombay on that fateful Friday on March 12 in 1993.  The day had started on a relaxed note for me and my Newstrack TV media team. A day before, we had wrapped up an interview of the glamorous Bollywood star Madhuri Dixit and were eager to get back home in Delhi after what appeared at the time a job well done.  But I didn’t know that I would end up spending another two weeks in Mumbai covering the biggest horror stories of my life.

I was in the Newstrack office at Nariman point to collect my flight ticket to Delhi around I pm.  I had barely been there for a few minutes, when suddenly there was a deafening explosion and shards of glass from the window panes came flying at us leaving us all shell-shocked.

It took us a quite a while to gather our wits amidst the nightmarish chaos. Someone then shouted that there was smoke emanating from the nearby Bombay Stock Exchange (BSE) building.  

When we ran to the spot to cover the event we were confronted with a heartrending sight of people who were dead and dying. Screams of fear and pain filled the air. It was an unbearable sight and my mind had gone numb.  When the fire brigade started evacuating the injured in large numbers, the magnitude of the powerful RDX explosive which had been planted in a car parked in the basement of the BSE building became evident.

Between 1.30 and 3.40 on that Friday afternoon, Mumbai turned into a horrifying nightmare with death and destruction all around as  12 bombs exploded in quick succession. The city's most iconic buildings were brought to their knees, beginning with the landmark of its financial supremacy, the Bombay Stock Exchange.

The explosions ripped through the Air India building in the south to the Sea Rock hotel at Land's End in the west, a strip of land that juts into the sea. The Plaza cinema owned by Bollywood legend V Shantaram, and the Century Bazar belonging to the Birlas who along with the Tatas, were India's leading business family, were left with gaping, smouldering holes. Most of the bombs were planted in cars or scooters and detonated by timers.

The masterminds, Dawood Ibrahim, Tiger Memon and Yakub Memon came up with a supposedly fool-proof plan.  Subsequently, 19 men handpicked by Tiger Memon (the right hand man of Dawood Ibrahim) were brainwashed into believing that the attacks were a way of seeking vengeance for the destruction of the Babri Mosque in 1992. These minions were mostly petty criminals listed in the police books. In February 1993, they were taken to Pakistan via Dubai to be trained in handling arms, ammunitions and building bombs.

The attacks were originally planned for April, 1993 but had to be advanced because Gul Noor Mohammad alias Gullu was detained by the Mumbai police on March 9, 1993 after returning from Pakistan. His brother had been taken in police custody in order to lure him to the police. Gullu admitted to being a part of the riots in Mumbai 1993 after the Babri Masjid havoc.

Did police miss chance to avert tragedy?

It is indeed strange that he also hinted at some attacks being planned to pave way for Mumbai’s devastation which could have been a turning point in averting the disaster, but the police did not pay heed to this “creative plot” and rubbished the conspiracy entirely.

Now that Tiger Memon’s little secret was out in the open, it was time for Plan B and instead of waiting till April 1993, the gory attacks were executed three days after Gullu’s detention.

In the space of just two hours on a Friday afternoon, international terrorism, in its most macabre and frightening form, rampaged through Bombay, shattering buildings and taking a deadly toll of human lives.

Listed as a global terrorist by a committee of the UN Security Council, Dawood Ibrahim continues to evade arrest and stay in Pakistan. His aides Yakub Memon and gangster Abu Salem, who escaped after the blasts, have been tried and convicted in the case. Yakub Memon was hanged to death and Abu Salem is serving a life sentence. Apart from Dawood Ibrahim, Tiger Memon, Anees Ibrahim, Chhota Shakeel and others are still on the run and continue to elude the Indian Investigative agencies.

After a 23-year trial, actor Sanjay Dutt was convicted and sentenced to five years in prison and finally released in 2016.  The court acquitted Dutt from accused of the blasts case, but convicted him under the Arms Act.

Ever since 1993, successive Indian governments had asked Pakistan to hand over Dawood Ibrahim to face trial for the blasts but Islamabad has always denied about his being in Pakistan.

Dawood enjoys Pak hospitality

Dawood fled to Pakistan just a night before the Mumbai serial blasts and lived and worked out of Karachi in the early days. But gradually, he travelled frequently out of Pakistan, and bought properties in Pakistan,  Dubai and other Gulf countries. Dawood also had a business in Dubai and headed what Indian intelligence dubbed as the 'D-company'. Dawood Ibrahim has evaded clutches of Indian agencies for decades. But had it not been for Pakistan's support, he would have been brought to justice a long time back. Indian agencies had detected long ago that Dawood stayed in a posh area of Karachi. He even enjoyed support and security from Pakistani Government. However, Pakistani Government has been falsely denying this.

Dawood is now well integrated into Pakistan's society. His daughter is married to Pakistan’s batting legend Javed Miandad’s son.

During my Pakistan trips, I did try to find out about Dawood. Javed Miandad refused to talk to me even on cricket. Friends in Pakistani media, warned me. They narrated  how the journalist who wrote this article on Dawood’s  presence and activities in Karachi, was detained and tortured by the Pakistan’s ISI. In July 2019, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), while seeking the extradition of one of Dawood’s close aides, Jabir Motiwala, had stated that Dawood was based in Pakistan. He was used by Pakistan’s spy agency, the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) for anti-India activities.  

Last year on August 18, it was for the first time that Islamabad finally admitted that Dawood Ibrahim lived in Pakistan. But it was a merely a ruse to avoid facing the heat from the Paris-based Financial Action Task Force (FATF) which has put Pakistan on a 'grey list' for failing stop terror financing.