A court in India has sentenced 38 people to death and ordered life in prison for 11 others over a series of bomb blasts in 2008 that killed dozens in the western city of Ahmedabad.
The court had on February 8 convicted 49 people over the coordinated attacks that killed 56 and wounded 200, launching shrapnel through markets, buses and other public places in Gujarat state’s commercial hub.
Nearly 80 people were charged overall for the attacks but 28 were acquitted. The convicted were all found guilty of murder and criminal conspiracy.
Judge A R Patel on Friday ordered the punishment after the prosecution pressed for the death sentence describing the incident as a “rarest of rare case” in which innocent lives were lost.
A defence lawyer said they would appeal the verdict in a higher court.
“We had sought lenient sentences for the convicts as they have already spent more than 13 years in prison,” Khalid Shaikh told Reuters news agency. “But the court awarded death to the majority of them. We will definitely go for appeal.”
A group calling itself the “Indian Mujahideen” had claimed responsibility for the blasts on July 26, 2008. It said the act was revenge for 2002 religious riots in the state that left some 1,000 people – mostly Muslims – dead.
The marathon trial lasted nearly a decade, with more than 1,100 witnesses called to testify. It was dragged out by procedural delays, including a legal battle by four of the accused to retract confessions.
Police also foiled a 2013 attempt by more than a dozen of the defendants to tunnel their way out of jail using food plates as digging tools.
All 77 accused have been held in custody for years, except for one who was bailed after a schizophrenia diagnosis.
Ahmedabad was the centre of deadly 2002 religious riots that saw at least 1,000 people hacked, shot and burned to death.
The violence broke out after the death of 59 Hindus in a train fire – a case in which 31 Muslims were convicted for criminal conspiracy and murder.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi was then head of the state government and has subsequently been dogged by accusations of turning a blind eye to the violence.