First cyberterrorism conviction in Maha: ‘Techie planned lone-wolf hit on American school’
MUMBAI: In the first cyberterrorism conviction in Maharashtra, computer engineer Anees Ansari was sentenced to life imprisonment on Friday for conspiring to kill children at the American school in Bandra Kurla Complex in 2014.
Ansari, 32, was accused of planning to use a thermite bomb in a ‘lone wolf’ attack and has been behind bars since his arrest on October 18, 2014.
Finding him guilty under section 66(F) of the Information Technology Act related to cyberterrorism, sessions court judge AA Joglekar said the prosecution had proved that Ansari conspired to commit terrorist acts and activities as practised, preached and propagated by the banned terrorist outfit IS.
The judge said the prosecution had proved that from October 13-18, 2014, Ansari was in constant touch with one Omar Elhaj and sending offensive messages and ideologies of the banned IS with the intent to threaten the unity and sovereignty of India or to strike terror in people by unauthorisedly using his company’s computer.
“…the accused had procured information about making a thermite bomb and shared the data or information with Omar Elhaj in furtherance of conspiracy of committing A LONE WOLF bomb attack at an American school… with the intent of causing death of children of foreign nationals and with malafide intention of causing terror…” added the judge, awarding the maximum sentence of life imprisonment under Section 66F of the IT Act.
Ansari had misused the computers and internet of the private company where he was working at SEEPZ despite several warnings. “…by exceeded authorised access and being threat to the integrity and sovereignty of India, (the accused) laid the matter within the purview of cyberterrorism”, said the judge.
Seeking life term, special public prosecutor Madhukar Dalvi said: “The accused is a qualified person, a computer engineer. The offence is highly skilled and technical, where his expertise came handy.” Considering the gravity and magnitude of the offence, if leniency is shown, there is a possibility the accused might put in action what he had set out to do.
Dalvi had cited the evidence of 25 witnesses, including a cyber expert, Ansari’s colleagues, a superior as well as his neighbours in Nehru Nagar, Kurla (East).
The prosecution said while working as an associate geographic technician, Ansari had used the company’s computer and set up a false Facebook account under a fake name, Usayrim Logan. His chats on the site with Elhaji, believed to be a US resident, showed he wanted to carry out a ‘lone wolf’ attack.
In the detailed judgment copy, the judge referred to the chats where Logan spoke about many Mumbai targets, specifically embassy and schools. It was also pointed that Ansari had provided the password for the account.
Ansari’s advocate Sharif Shaikh urged the court to sentence him to the time he has spent in jail, pointing out the offence was not actually committed. Citing his age and his educational qualifications, he pleaded his future would be spoilt if he was to spend more time in jail. Shaikh also said Ansari’s family was poor and his father was working as a watchman. But the judge said the mitigating circumstances mentioned “naturally cannot be at the cost of the security of the nation…”