India orders hanging for 26 in Gandhi’s 1991 assassination

POONAMALLEE, India (AP) — A mammoth conspiracy trial ended with convictions Wednesday for all 26 people tried in the 1991 suicide bombing that killed former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, the political heir of India’s Nehru-Gandhi dynasty. All 26 were ordered hanged.
“The nation stands vindicated,” declared D.R. Karthikeyan, the federal police officer who led the investigation.
Tamil Tiger rebels from neighboring Sri Lanka assassinated Gandhi for allegedly betraying them by brokering a peace accord with the Sri Lanka government in 1987.
Gandhi, the son and grandson of India’s prime ministers, was campaigning for his Congress Party in southern India on May 21, 1991, when a woman handed him flowers, then detonated a pound of plastic explosives strapped to her body.
The explosives, packed with 10,000 metal pellets, killed Gandhi and 16 others, including the Sri Lankan Tamil bomber, who went by only one name, Dhanu.
The prosecution charged 41 Indian and Sri Lankan suspects with terrorism, murder and conspiring with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, a rebel group fighting for an independent homeland for Sri Lanka’s minority Tamils.
Twelve suspects committed suicide when trapped by police. Three guerrilla commanders accused of ordering the assassination, including the Tiger chief, Velupillai Prabhakaran, were charged but never caught. They remain at large in the jungles of neighboring Sri Lanka.
The convicted, half of them Sri Lankan Tamils and the rest Indians, will appeal Wednesday’s verdict to India’s Supreme Court.
“Never before in trial history has there been such a conviction in which 26 people have been sentenced to death,” Press Trust of India news agency quoted defense attorney S. Doraiswamy as saying.
Although only two defendants were convicted of murder, all were tried under special terrorist laws that made the death penalty possible. Death sentences are rare in India, but those convicted in previous political assassinations were hanged.