A special court in Gujarat on Thursday sentenced on 18 people to life imprisonment and five others to seven years jail term in the 2002 Ode village massacre case.

Gujarat Riots
Hajira Sheikh, a riot survivor, sits with her grandson at her residence in the rebuilt Naroda Patiya, a neighbourhood of more than 3000 families in Ahmedabad, Gujarat March 6, 2009.

The court on Monday convicted 23 of the 47 people accused in the Ode massacre case in which 23 people, mostly women and children were burnt alive by a mob during the Gujarat riots on March 1, 2002.

The 18 people, who were found guilty of murder and criminal conspiracy, were also imposed a fine of Rs 5,800 each besides getting life imprisonment. The other five, who were found guilty for attempt to murder and criminal conspiracy, were fined Rs. 3,800 each besides seven years jail term.

The verdict came over a decade after the massacre took place.

The prosecution claimed that all the 23 convicts should get death sentence, terming the massacre as a 'rarest of rare'.

"Court has declined our plea for capital punishment for the murder accused. However, it has sentenced 18 people to life imprisonment. We will be studying the order of the court and then decide on the future course of action whether to appeal for capital punishment in the higher forums and also decide to appeal against the acquittal of 23 others," CNN IBN quoted Special Public Prosecutor PM Parmar as saying.

Meanwhile, Counsel Ashwin Dhagad hinted that the defence would challenge the court verdict in the High Court.

"Statements of witnesses have been contradictory and how the court has appreciated those facts that we will come to know only after we get the copy of the judgement," he said.

On March 1, 2002, a mob set a house in Pirawali Bhagol area at Ode village on fire in which 23 Muslims were taking shelter post-Godhra riots in Gujarat. All the 23 people in the house including nine children and eight women were burnt alive.

The Supreme Court appointed special investigation team (SIT) was assigned to probe into the nine cases that happened post-Godhra riot, and the Ode massacre was one of them. The trial began in November 2009 and 158 witnesses were questioned.

The massacre took place after 59 karsevaks returning from Ayodhya were burnt alive after fire broke out in one of the coaches of Sabarmati Express train at Godhra railway station on February 27, 2002.

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