Anand:  A Gujarat court on Thursday sentenced 18 persons to life imprisonment and five others to 7 years in jail for burning alive 23 people at Ode village during the post-Godhra riots, holding that the offence did not fall in the 'rarest of rare' category.

The accused, who were convicted on Monday, a decade after the incident, escaped the noose as District and Sessions judge Poonam Singh held that since none of them had criminal antecedents they did not merit the ultimate penalty.

The court also imposed a fine of Rs 5,800 on each of those sentenced to life imprisonment and Rs 3,800 on those handed down jail term of 7 years.

In its order, the court upheld the charge of criminal conspiracy to kill the victims belonging to the Muslim community and cause damage to their property.

The court's observation was based on the fact that the mob had gathered with arms and sharp weapons on a Friday when most minority community members were at home.

It observed that the intention of the mob was clear as it did not disperse in spite of being baton-charged by the police which also burst teargas shells.

The court said the involvement of those convicted in setting afire the house had been corroborated by the statements of the witnesses who had also identified them.

Tumultuous scenes were witnessed after pronouncement of the verdict with several family members of the convicts breaking down inside the court campus.

While many shouted slogans against Chief Minister Narendra Modi, one of them identified as Ravji Patel allegedly tried to commit suicide by consuming poison but was prevented by those accompanying him after the police had evicted them from the court premises. Ravji's son Vijay and his four other relatives were among those convicted.

More than 150 witnesses were examined and over 170 documentary evidences placed before the court during the trial which began towards the end of 2009.

It was on the verge of completion when the then judge hearing the case resigned in May, 2011, citing personal reasons following which Judge Singh was appointed and arguments were heard afresh.

This is the second major post-Godhra riot case where more than 18 people have been sentenced to life imprisonment.

Earlier, in the Sardarpura riot case in Mehsana district, 31 persons were awarded life term and 42 were acquitted.

In the Godhra train burning case, a court had awarded death sentence to 11 people and life imprisonment to 20.

Ode riot case is one of the nine cases that was probed by the Supreme Court-appointed Special Investigation Team led by former CBI director R K Raghavan.

(Agencies)