Bollywood breathes sigh of relief as idol is cleared of bombing

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The Independent Online

One of Bollywood's best-known actors has been cleared of involvement in a 1993 bomb attack on Mumbai that killed 257 people, but was found guilty of illegally possessing weapons.

Sanjay Dutt, who has acted in more than 100 films, was one of 123 suspects accused of conspiracy in the terror attack.

Judge Pramod Kode yesterday found him guilty of possessing three AK56 assault rifles and a pistol in January 1993 - weapons allegedly supplied by another suspect - but acquitted him of conspiring in the plot.

The Hindu actor said he had asked for arms to defend his family because he was worried about Hindu-Muslim riots in Mumbai.

Satish Maneshinde, Dutt's lawyer, said the verdict removed the "stigma and accusation" that the 47-year-old actor was a terrorist. "Sanjay wishes his dad was alive to see that the family name is cleared. The judge has clearly said he had no knowledge of and was in no way involved in any terrorist act."

The verdict has been a relief to the Indian film industry that has £20m invested in films that Dutt is due to complete.

Filmmaker Karan Johar said: "It's so heartening to hear the verdict is out and he's not been convicted under any kind of conspiracy. We always knew he was innocent. Everyone knows the kind of human being Sanjay is. Finally there is justice to that."

Dutt, who spent 16 months in prison when first charged with involvement in the Mumbai bombings, has since made more than half of his 105 films while on bail waiting for trial in a case that has taken 13 years.

Dutt could yet be sentenced for up to 10 years for possession of the firearms, although it is believed that as a first time offender the courts may be lenient.

Yesterday, Judge Kode extended Dutt's bail until 19 December so he could take care of his 18-year-old daughter's education in new York and complete several films.

Dutt, whose parents Sunil Dutt and Nargis Dutt were also Bollywood actors, has attracted attention for drug abuse and failed marriages. But more recently, the publicity surrounding the actor has focused on his critically acclaimed films. This year, he starred in Lage Raho Munnabhai (Keep Going Munnabhai) the sequel to Munnabhai MBBS, which is currently being remade by Hollywood.

The case is a hangover from when Bollywood and crime were linked. Until the early-1990s, Dawood Ibrahim, who is accused of masterminding the Mumbai attacks and is currently on the run, would invite Bollywood actors to weddings and parties.

That changed after Dutt's arrest in connection with the 1993 Mumbai attacks, which were considered to be acts of revenge by Muslims for the Hindu demolition of a 16th-century northern Indian mosque the year before. Religious riots between Hindus and Muslims erupted in many parts of India, killing more than 800 people, mostly Muslims.

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