The Punjab and Haryana High Court today dismissed CBI's petition seeking death penalty for Abdul Latif Adam Momin, a convict in the 1999 Kandahar hijack case.
Upholding the life sentence for Momin, the court, however, acquitted two other convicts, Yusuf Nepali and Dilip Kumar Bhujel of murder charges and conspiracy of hijacking the aircraft after finding them guilty only under the Arms Act, 1959.
Momin is an Indian and is linked with Pakistan-based militant outfit Harkat-ul-Mujahideen. Bhujel is also an Indian while Nepali hails from Nepal. The order was passed by a division bench comprising Justice Hemant Gupta and Justice Fateh Deep Singh. The court observed that though the offences are serious, impinging upon the sovereignty and integrity of India, but keeping in view the fact that the appellant (Momin) was in custody since December 30, 1999, it did not find that any case is made out for enhancement of sentence to death (as demanded by CBI).
However, the court partially allowed the appeals filed by Nepali and Bhujel against the judgment of special Anti-Hijacking Court, Patiala, on February 5, 2008. The HC set aside their conviction for the offences punishable under Sections 302 (murder), 307 (attempt to murder), 363 (kidnapping), 342 (wrongful confinement), 467 (forgery), 506 (criminal intimidation) with Section 120 B (criminal conspiracy) of Indian Penal Code (IPC) as well as under Section 4 of the Anti Hijacking Act, 1982.
However, the court upheld the duo's conviction and sentence for charges under Section 25 of the Arms Act. The High Court had reserved its judgment in the case on September 20 last year after continuously hearing the arguments for 18 days.
The IC-814 Indian Airlines flight from Kathmandu to New Delhi, with 179 passengers and 11 crew members on board, was hijacked on December 24, 1999, and taken to Kandahar (Afghanistan) by five hijackers (who are still absconding). The hijackers had executed one of the passengers, Rupin Katyal and finally negotiated the release of terrorists Masood Azhar Alvi, Syed Omar Sheikh and Mushtaq Ahmad Zargar from Indian jails on December 31, 1999, in exchange for the hostages.
The CBI had filed a petition in 2008, seeking enhancement of life sentence awarded to Momin, a Mumbai resident, to death sentence.
Behind the bars for the past 14 years, Momin, along with co-accused Nepali and Bhujel, were awarded life sentence by the Patiala court on February 5, 2008.