Ex-IITian Gets Death Penalty in UP Temple Attack: What's the Proof Against Him?

Abbasi’s lawyer claimed that a plea for mental health assessment was rejected by the district court.

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Ahmad Murtaza Abbasi, an IIT-Bombay alumnus who was arrested following an attack on policemen at the Gorakhnath temple in Uttar Pradesh's Gorakhpur district last year, was awarded the death sentence by an ATS/NIA court in Lucknow on Monday, 30 January.

Abbasi’s lawyer claimed that a plea for mental health assessment was rejected by the district court which heard the case for two months. The Uttar Pradesh government had termed the incident an act of terror and the case was transferred to the UP ATS for further investigation.

A core committee under UP ATS ADG Naveen Arora was formed to not only investigate the case but also assist the prosecution in the speedy trial of the case. ADG Arora claimed that apart from Abbasi’s digital footprints, deleted files that were extracted were presented as crucial evidence in the case.

Meanwhile, reacting to the conviction, Devendra Singh Chauhan, the director general of police said, "He was an ISIS lone wolf attacker and was an expert in terror financing. In our in depth investigation we learnt that he was an alumnus of IIT Bombay and an expert in technology. He used to mask his online activity, disseminate terror literature electronically and was making contacts with ISIS conduits to send fighters to Syria's Al-Hol."

Abbasi's lawyer has decided to challenge the ATS court's decision in the High Court.   

On 3 April 2022, Abbasi, who is in his late 20s, was arrested after he attacked the PAC personnel stationed outside the Gorakhnath temple with a sharp weapon while raising religious slogans. Gorakhnath Temple is the headquarters of the Gorakhnath mutt, of which Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath is the head priest.

Family Says Abbasi Not 'Mentally Sound', ATS Denies Claim

Abbasi's family, in their brief interaction with the media, had claimed that their son was not of sound mind and that he had also exhibited suicidal tendencies for which he had been under observation at many places since 2017.

After Abbasi's arrest in 2022, The Quint had reached out to a neurologist in Ahmedabad who had treated Abbasi in 2018.

The neurologist had diagnosed him as suffering from "anxiety and complaining of delusional thoughts," and had asked the latter to see a psychiatrist due to the issues he was facing.

The neurologist had added that Abbasi did not come for a follow-up after his first appointment.

Refuting the claims, ADG Arora said:

"He (Abbasi) was of sound mind and was telling even the minutest of the details. He was studying quantum physics, trying to design mathematical formulas and was researching chemicals for bombs. Can a person of unsound mind get into such details? He had worked with three different companies. No one will take him for the job if he is not mentally fit. We have proven that he was not of unsound mind."
ADG Arora also confirmed to The Quint that the defence did try to seek relief on grounds of mental illness but did not produce any medical records to corroborate it.

Raza-ur-Rahman, the lawyer representing Abbasi, told reporters in Lucknow that" Abbasi is meritorious but he is not of sound mind. We had moved an application in district court under CrPC section 84 read with section 328 for assessment of his mental health but the application was kept pending. After three months, it was junked and immediately charges were framed and statements of witnesses were recorded."


Case Doesn’t Merit 'Rarest of Rare Judgment': Expert

Hailing the improving criminal justice system in the state for securing Abbasi’s conviction in 60 days, DGP Chauhan said, "The judgement sends a positive message to the public. Severe action is taken against anyone who tries to disturb the unity, integrity and social harmony of the country."

Meanwhile, experts believe the case doesn’t merit the rarest of the rare judgment.

“It has to be extraordinary circumstances and the way judgment is awarded to satisfy the conscience in rarest of the rare cases. Secondly, the nature of the offence has to be very gruesome and the court has to be satisfied that there is no reformation of the concerned individual. If you look at the facts in the case and what crime has been committed – it is not even murder or culpable homicide. This doesn’t merit the rarest of the rare judgement,” Harshit Anand, a Delhi High Court lawyer, said.

Anand also claimed that mitigating factors like disturbed personal life, poor mental health, addiction to drugs, etc, are to be taken into account in such cases.

“One of the principles of mitigating factor which the courts now stress upon is that when you awarding death penalty, you also have to do a psychosocial analysis of the concerned person – you have to look into their personal background, the social milieu they are coming from. There are reports of (Abbasi’s) father talking about his son’s disturbed personal life since 2017. Such mitigating factors – like disturbed personal life, setback in any form which put the person in a position to commit crime – needs to be taken into account,” Anand added.


'Clinching Evidence': ATS on Extraction of Deleted Files

The Uttar Pradesh Police has been patting its back over the speedy trial in the case.

The high-profile case was being directly monitored by UP ATS ADG Arora, who claims to have prepared a watertight case based on electronic evidence, digital footprints, and statements of witnesses.

"A core committee was formed which was headed by me. We brainstormed backing every statement with evidence. Secondly, we stressed on what evidence and witnesses would be required to secure conviction under the given IPC section. We maintained witnesses to appear in court on the day of hearing as required."

But why would a tech geek like Abbasi leave digital footprints that could blow his alleged operation?

"He was planning to go to Syria to join the ranks of ISIS. He was not even concerned about what evidence he left behind. Most importantly, we extracted his deleted files which he did not expect. That was actually clinching," ADG Arora said.

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Topics:  Death Sentence   IIT Bombay   Gorakhpur 

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