Just before sleep, death news knocks

New Delhi, Feb. 9: The messenger of death reached at 10 on Friday night when Afzal Guru was preparing to go to sleep inside his 16ftx12ft high-security cell in Tihar jail.

"Main yeh bataane aaya hoon ke aap ko kal subah phaansi di jayegi (I have come to convey that you will be hanged tomorrow morning)," the senior jail official told the Parliament attack convict.

The official had gone alone to ensure secrecy.

"For a moment, it appeared Guru could not believe it but he kept his calm. He was shocked and did not utter a single word," the jail official said. "He sat silently slumped, his head in his hands. His fingers tightened around his skull and he squeezed it."

As the official left, the security guards locked the cell's gate.

Prison officials said Afzal, 43, did not sleep after that and offered namaaz several times and was seen praying with folded hands.

At 5am today, jail officials entered the cell with his death warrant to find Afzal offering the morning namaaz. They went out and waited for him to complete the prayer. After 10 minutes, they went in again and one of them read out the death warrant, informing Afzal that his clemency petition had been rejected by the President.

"He looked at us before signing the death warrant. He was shaken and nervous but maintained his composure," said a prison source.

Asked about his last wish, Afzal kept quiet for some time before enquiring whether his family had been informed.

"We replied in the positive. After that he asked for the Holy Quran which we provided from the jail library. He recited the Quran for nearly an hour and offered namaaz again. He did not wish to eat anything and had no breakfast. He had only a glass of water," the source said.

He remained calm before he was taken from his cell to the gallows, barely 30 metres away.

The government denied allegations that Afzal's family had not been informed. "They (jail authorities) intimated the family through Speed Post, registered post and the DG (director-general of Jammu and Kashmir police) has been told to check with the family whether they got it or not," home secretary R.K Singh said, without revealing when the message was sent.

Eight persons witnessed the execution, including senior jail officials, a magistrate and two doctors.

Afzal was hanged at 8am and doctors pronounced him dead after eight minutes. "As he fell, we heard his neck break. After half an hour he was buried. Guru was buried inside the prison complex in Jail No. 3," said a jail official who was present.

In Tihar, the last time anyone was hanged was in 1989 when Indira Gandhi's assassins Satwant Singh and Kehar Singh were executed by two hangmen Kallu and Fakira. Kallu, who died a few years ago, was from Uttar Pradesh and Fakira was from Punjab.

Kallu's son, who lives in Meerut, hanged Afzal. "To keep everything under wraps we brought him by road on Friday evening and he spent the night inside the jail premises and prepared the ropes for the hanging," said another official of Jail No. 3 where Afzal was lodged.