Extradited gangster Abu Salem was on Thursday sentenced to life imprisonment by a court in the 1993 Mumbai serial blasts case.
Besides Salem, the court also sentenced Karimullah Khan to life imprisonment. A special TADA court had convicted six persons, including mastermind Mustafa Dossa and Salem, in the blasts case, 24 years after the attacks left more than 250 people dead.
Much before he delivered a consignment of arms and explosives at actor Sanjay Dutt’s house in the run-up to the March 12, 1993 serial blasts, Abu Salem went by the name Abu Samaan in Dawood Ibrahim’s gang, often called the D-Company.
He got the name because of his good driving skills that ensured many of the gang’s consignments of contraband (referred to as saaman) reach their destination in time. So he was the natural choice for the gang when it came to carrying the deadly consignment of hand grenades and assault rifles from Gujarat to Mumbai in January 1993. He did not disappoint Anees Ibrahim, Dawood’s younger brother and second-in-command in the gang. The task was accomplished with precision and the consignment reached the garage at actor Dutt’s Pali Hill home without authorities suspecting anything.
Retired assistant commissioner of police (ACP), Shankar Kamble, who was a key member of the Mumbai crime branch team that investigated the serial blasts case, remembers that Salem never figured in the underworld criminal dossier, neither was he a suspect in the serial blasts even a month after the police unravelled the plot.
It was at the height of the investigation in the third week of April 1993, that the crime branch picked up some D Company members from Andheri for questioning. The source of some confiscated Kalashnikovs and hand grenades was still to be known, though the police had a fair idea about how “Kala Saboon” (RDX) had found its way into the city.
One of the gangsters spilled the beans about key Dawood aide Baba Chouhan. “Chouhan’s family ran a motor driving training school in Andheri, while he himself was involved in smuggling activity,” Kamble recollects. Baba was swiftly picked up and subjected to questioning.
It was from Baba’s disclosure that the police learnt about another facet of the terror plan — of indiscriminate firing with assault rifles and lobbing of grenades — which never took off.
It became evident that a large consignment of arms and explosives had been carried into the city from Gujarat in a Maruti Omni van. Special cavities were made in the doors and floor of the van to conceal the consignment that was initially offloaded at Dutt’s bungalow. The disclosure not only nailed Dutt, but the driver of the vehicle, Salem (and two more) in the terror plot.
What followed was the arrest of Dutt, Baba, Salim Hingora, Arif Kadawala and some other accused. However, Salem had, by then, escaped to Delhi, later his home town Azamgarh before he flew down to Dubai to join other D-Company fugitives. The van was never found.
Years after the blast, the police heard Chhota Shakeel referring to a “driver” in his telephone interceptions. Later, it became evident that the “driver” was blast accused Qayoom who morphed into “Abu Salem” afterwards.