Pakistani accused in Mumbai attacks sentenced to death
Friday, May 7, 2010
MUMBAI, India -- An Indian court sentenced the only surviving gunman from the 2008 Mumbai attacks to death Thursday, a punishment officials hoped would send a message to archrival Pakistan to stop future violence as fears about the global reach of militancy based on its soil grow.
Judge M.L. Tahaliyani gave Mohammed Ajmal Kasab multiple death sentences for murder, waging war against India, conspiracy and terrorism. He also handed down penalties for over two dozen other offenses ranging to life in prison.
"He shall be hanged by his neck until he is dead," Tahaliyani said.
Kasab cried silently as he heard the penalties, his shoulders shaking as he hid his face with his hand. Guards helped him out of the courtroom briefly for a glass of water.
A photograph of Kasab, 22, striding through Mumbai's main train station, an assault rifle in hand, became the iconic image of the three-day siege in November 2008 that claimed the lives of 166 people. Kasab was one of 10 young Pakistanis who attacked two luxury hotels, a Jewish center and a busy train station in India's financial capital. Millions watched the mayhem unfold live on television.
Kasab's sentence must be reviewed by the High Court. He can also appeal the decision and apply for clemency to the state and central governments, although his lawyer said no decision had been made on whether to do so.
Such motions often keep convicts on death row for years, even decades.
India's last execution -- of a man convicted of the rape and murder of a schoolgirl -- occurred in 2004.
Many convicts simply wait as bureaucratic disregard -- some say deliberate neglect by politicians leery of capital punishment -- effectively converts a death sentence into life in prison.
In his verdict, the judge said Kasab volunteered for the Pakistan-based militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba, which provided training for the attack. He also said the evidence implicated at least 20 people -- most of them still at large in Pakistan -- in the conspiracy to wage war against India.
Those findings complicate recent efforts by the nuclear-armed neighbors to rekindle peace talks cut off after the attack.
Since the verdict, demands have grown within India for Pakistan to do more to root out homegrown terror groups, some of which operate openly under the protection of provincial governments.
Deven Bharti, a senior police official, said he hoped the sentence "will be a deterrent for Pakistan, so they will stop exporting terrorists across the border."
Jasjit Singh, director of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in New Delhi, said the verdict and a recent failed car bombing in New York City show that Pakistan's government and security forces are not serious enough about cracking down on militancy.
"It's not just one incident here. This is part of a series, which is no longer an India-Pakistan problem," he said.
Faisal Shahzad, a Pakistani-American, was arrested this week for suspected involvement in a failed attempt to blow up a crude car bomb in Times Square. He reportedly told investigators he received bomb-making training from militants in Pakistan.
Indian External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna told reporters Thursday that India will keep pressing for the extradition of all involved in the attacks.
Among those named by the court are top Lashkar leader Hafiz Muhammad Saeed -- whom Pakistan has yet to prosecute, much to India's ire -- and Zaki-ur-Rahman Lakhvi and Zarrar Shah, two Lashkar operatives who are among seven men on trial in Pakistan for their alleged role in the Mumbai attack.
"The judge has come to the most appropriate conclusion and it could send a positive message to anyone who would like to wage a war against India," Krishna said.
A small crowd outside the special high-security court cheered the sentence, shouting "We win! We win!" Groups of people -- some organized by local Muslim organizations -- handed out sweets, waved Indian flags and set off firecrackers at a local market and outside two train stations. Some chanted, "Death to Pakistan."
Citing India's chronic shortage of executioners, Islamic scholar Maulana Khalilur Rehman Noori said he'd be happy to do the job himself.
"I am ready to be the hangman, as there is no place for terrorism in Islam," he said.
There has been no public sympathy for Kasab in Pakistan during his trial, but news of his death sentence received a muted response there.
"We would appreciate that our legal experts need to go through the detailed judgment," Pakistani Foreign Office spokesman Abdul Basit said. "At this stage, what I can tell you is that Pakistan has strongly condemned the horrific Mumbai attack. It is important that culprits are brought to justice."
Residents of Kasab's hometown of Faridkot village in the Punjab region of Pakistan watched the news on television and said it was unjust for Kasab to have been tried in India.
"He should be punished by a Pakistani court and they should produce evidence in a Pakistani court," said village leader Ghulam Mustafa. "Or perhaps an international team should investigate this case."
Kasab has changed dramatically over the yearlong proceedings.
He began the trial flush with confidence, sometimes laughing.
Later, he seemed to grow bored and was seen drawing his finger across his throat, in a gesture of mock-execution. In July, he shocked the court by changing his plea to guilty, asking to be hanged and describing in rich detail his induction into Lashkar.
Five months later he retracted his confession, making the claim that he had come to Mumbai seeking work in the city's prolific film industry and been forced by police to confess. The judge dismissed that assertion and said his confession was bolstered by enough other evidence to be taken as generally true.
Kasab appeared pale and thin in court this week. He spent the hearings nearly motionless on a bench, his head slumped forward staring blankly at the floor.
"His health appears to be deteriorating day by day," said defense attorney K.P. Pawar. He said Kasab has had medical checkups "every now and then" and attributed his frailty to prolonged solitary confinement.
Associated Press reporters Aijaz Ansari and Rajesh Shah in Mumbai and Anita Chang in Islamabad contributed to this report.