‘No evidence against Indian duo, witness unreliable’

In a jolt to the prosecution and Mumbai Police, Special Judge M L Tahaliyani acquitted the two Indian men — Fahim Ansari of Mumbai and Sabahuddin Ahmed of Bihar — who were accused of laying the ground for the attacks by surveying the targets and supplying information to Lashkar bosses in Pakistan.

The two men were charged on the same 86 counts as Kasab. But the court said the evidence against them was not concrete or reliable. Of the 35 people named as fugitives in the chargesheet and who are believed to be in Pakistan, the court found only 20 guilty. They include Lashkar founder Hafiz Saeed, Lashkar operational commander Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi and Abu Hamza, among others.

The state is expected to go in appeal against the acquittals.

"The prosecution has failed to produce any kind of quality and quantity evidence against them (Fahim and Sabahuddin)," Tahaliyani said. "The only eyewitness whom the prosecution has examined, Noorudin Sheikh, does not inspire confidence and it can be inferred that he has never been to Nepal and neither has seen the duo there exchanging the alleged target maps which were later claimed to have been given to LeT."

Ansari was accused of surveying the targets in Mumbai, making maps and handing them over to Ahmed in Nepal, who in turn was accused of forwarding it to Lashkar bosses in Pakistan. Sheikh was cited as a witness who saw Ansari give Ahmed the maps in Nepal.

But lawyers for Ansari and Ahmed had raised doubts over Sheikh, accusing him of being on the payroll of the Mumbai Police. Sheikh had gone missing after his testimony, forcing the police to launch a manhunt for him and sparking questions about his credibility.

The court also trashed the police theory that Kasab and his partner Abu Ismail were heading to Malabar Hill to attack targets there including the Raj Bhavan based on a map they said they found on Ismail.

"The map found on Ismail seems to be more confusing than guiding," Tahaliyani said. "Wikipedia and Google have better quality maps and why would a terror organisation rely on hand-made maps to carry out a massive attack?" the judge said.

The court also said the reaction time of the police was not as good as it should have been on the night of the attack. Ismail and Kasab would not have reached Girgaum Chowpatty at all if the police had rushed additional forces to Cama Hospital in time, and the face-off could have ended there, Tahaliyani said.

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