Afzal was held responsible for planning and plotting the audacious attack in which five Jaish-e-Mohammad terrorists entered the main complex of Parliament, which was in session, and fired indiscriminately, leaving nine people dead. All the five terrorists were killed after security forces retaliated in a gun battle that lasted several minutes.
From Sopore in Kashmir, Afzal was sentenced to death by a Delhi court in 2002, a decision that was later upheld by the Supreme Court in 2005 and again, while hearing a review petition, in 2007. His family had moved a mercy plea with the President in October 2006, which Pranab Mukherjee finally rejected last Sunday. Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde endorsed the decision the next day after which the remaining formalities were completed swiftly.
Incidentally, the date of hanging was fixed for February 8. Since it was a Friday, a day when Muslims assemble for prayers, authorities feared a law and order problem, especially in Kashmir. The hanging was put off for a day and carried out at 8 am today.
To preempt any disturbance, almost the entire Kashmir Valley was placed under curfew early this morning.
“The President rejected the mercy petition of Afzal Guru on February 3 and after that I gave my approval on February 4 and the date and timing was confirmed by a judicial official. He was hanged at 8 o’clock this morning,” Shinde said soon after the execution. He said he had spoken to Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah on Friday evening and asked him to make necessary arrangements to maintain peace in the state.
Home Secretary R K Singh confirmed that the body of Afzal was buried inside the Tihar complex itself. Senior Home Ministry officials said none of the family members had requested for the body. They could not have, since the jail sent a message, by speed post, informing the family about the rejection of the mercy plea only on February 7, just two days ahead of the date of hanging. A day later, another message was sent through speed post to inform the family that Afzal would be hanged on the morning of Saturday.
Informing the family is a mandatory provision under law before carrying out an execution of a convicted criminal. Home Ministry officials conceded that handing over the body to the family could have led to protests and demonstrations in the Valley. R K Singh though had spoken to the DGP of Jammu and Kashmir on Friday evening, requesting him to inform the family about the decision.
To ensure utmost secrecy, the rejection of the mercy petition and the plan of the hanging were known to only a handful of seniormost ministers and top-ranking officials, many of whom were brought into the picture only at the last moment. There was no intimation to the Defence Ministry regarding any alert for Army troops nor was the matter discussed by the Cabinet Committee on Security.
Apart from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Omar, Congress president Sonia Gandhi was kept informed. The J&K CM, sources said, was sounded out about a possible development relating to Afzal about three days ago but he and his senior officials were told in clear terms about the decision only only Friday evening.
Afzal is the second Kashmiri militant to be executed. Earlier, Maqbool Bhat, a member of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front, was hanged and buried inside the Tihar complex in February 1984. Afzal’s execution comes just three months after the hanging of Mohammad Ajmal Kasab, the lone terrorist in the group of ten that held Mumbai hostage for three days from November 26, 2008 and gunned down over 160 people, including foreigners. Kasab was hanged on November 21 in Pune’s Yeravada jail.
Afzal’s fate was sealed in August 2011, when the Home Ministry recommended to then President Pratibha Patil that the mercy petition be rejected. Patil, however, did not take a decision. After Shinde became Home Minister last year, new President Pranab Mukherjee sent the file back to the Home Ministry for reconsideration in December 2012.
After re-examining the mercy petition, the Home Ministry once again recommended death penalty for Afzal and sent the file to the President’s Secretariat on January 23. The Home Ministry concluded that there was “not an iota of doubt regarding Guru’s involvement in the 2001 attack. His role in providing logistics and conducting recce was established beyond doubt”.
Mukherjee is learnt to have held elaborate discussion with his legal advisers and finally took a decision on February 3. Once the nod was received from Rashtrapati Bhawan, there was no delay. On February 4, the Home Ministry informed the Chief Secretary of Delhi, Deepak Mohan Spolia, and DG Prisons, Vimla Mehra, to prepare for the execution of Afzal.