NEW DELHI (Reuters) - India's Supreme Court has put off by a day a decision on whether to stay the execution of the only person sentenced to death for India's deadliest bomb attack, meaning the convict will learn his fate just hours before he is due to be hanged on Thursday.
Yakub Memon was convicted as the "driving spirit" behind blasts in Mumbai in 1993 that killed at least 257 people, but his case has divided opinion in India, with several eminent figures saying the sentence is too harsh.
Police consider Memon's brother, "Tiger" Memon, and mafia don Dawood Ibrahim to be the main masterminds behind the attack, carried out to avenge the destruction of an ancient mosque by Hindu zealots in 1992. Both remain in hiding.
The Supreme Court last week rejected one appeal, but Memon again approached the court arguing an order to hang him was passed while he still had legal recourse available.
A two-judge Supreme Court bench on Tuesday gave a split verdict and referred Memon's mercy plea to a larger bench of justices, which is due to hear the case on Wednesday.
Supporters of Memon's plea said he cooperated with investigating agencies and that he was the only person of several convicted to face the death penalty for the bombings, which targeted landmarks in Mumbai, then known as Bombay.
His imminent hanging in the central city of Nagpur has ignited a debate in the media, and his cause has been taken up by Bollywood superstar Salman Khan.
Memon's plea has been turned down by the president. Several prominent people, including lawmakers and retired judges, on Sunday asked the president to reconsider.
Calls for reprieve grew after an Indian news website last week released a 2007 article written by intelligence official B. Raman, who coordinated Memon's arrest in 1994, and said he believed he should not be hanged. Raman has since died.
"In their eagerness to obtain the death penalty, the fact that there were mitigating circumstances do not appear to have been highlighted (by the prosecution)," Raman said in the article.
(Reporting by Suchitra Mohanty and Aditya Kalra; Editing by Frank Jack Daniel and Robert Birsel)