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Indian court convicts cyber cafe worker in 2010 Pune blast

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

An Indian court convicted a cyber cafe worker of murder on Monday over a bomb blast which ripped through a packed restaurant in the western city of Pune three years ago, killing 17 people.

A lower court in Pune found Mirza Himayat Baig guilty of criminal conspiracy and murder for the attack on the popular German Bakery restaurant where five foreigners were among those killed by a bomb in a rucksack left under a table.

"Baig has been found guilty of all the key charges. He was a co-conspirator," special public prosecutor Raja Thakare told AFP.

Baig's sentence will be handed down on Thursday and he could face the death penalty for the bombing that also injured more than 60 people. Five co-accused are still at large, Thakare said.

The blast on February 13, 2010 in the restaurant located in an upscale area of Pune in Maharashtra state was the first major attack in India after the 2008 assault on Mumbai by Islamist gunmen that left 166 dead.

The bomb exploded while the bakery and restaurant was jammed with mainly young Indians and tourists.

Thakare said Baig, in his early 30s, was linked to the Indian Mujahideen, a home-grown Islamist group with links to militants in Pakistan, which the government had suspected of involvement in the blast.

Prosecutors had told the court the conspirators planned the attack at a meeting in Colombo, Sri Lanka, where Baig was trained to make a bomb, but the defence team denied this and said he was not in Pune at the time of the blast.

"We will file an appeal to the high court," Baig's counsel A. Rehman told reporters after the verdict was delivered in Pune, a university city which lies 150 kilometres (94 miles) from India's financial capital Mumbai.

The explosion tore through the building, creating a huge hole in the wall measuring six feet by four feet (1.8 metres by 1.2 metres) and sending those inside fleeing screaming in panic for their lives.

Baig, who used to run a cyber cafe in Maharashtra, was arrested after several months of investigation, while police say a co-conspirator who planted the bomb is among those still at large, local media reported.

Police took Baig into custody after finding explosives at his home in Latur in Maharashtra, according to local reports.

The German Bakery was popularly known as "Pune's Cafe Leopold" -- named after the hangout popular with tourists and young people in downtown Mumbai, which was targeted in the 2008 attacks.

The restaurant was about 200 metres from an ashram, or religious retreat, specialising in meditation courses run by Swiss-based firm Osho International and popular with visitors.

It was also close to Chabad House, a Jewish cultural and religious centre run by the orthodox Chabad-Lubavitch movement, whose members were targeted in the 2008 Mumbai attacks.

Pune was hit again last August by a string of low-intensity blasts that targeted a bustling restaurant and centrally located shopping area in the city, injuring one person.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130415/indian-court-convicts-cyber-cafe-worker-2010-pune-blast