MUMBAI // After a year-long trial, Ajmal Kasab, the sole survivor out of the 10 gunmen who carried out the 2008 terrorist assault on India's commercial capital, was sentenced to death. "Kasab is a lingering danger to society," Judge ML Tahaliyani said, as he announced the sentence. "He is to be hanged by the neck till death."
Rejecting the plea for life imprisonment by Kasab's defence lawyer, KP Pawar, who argued that his client was young and "blinded by religion", Judge Tahaliyani said: "Words cannot express the brutality of his crime ? There is no chance for reform or rehabilitation for this man. He has no right to live." Kasab, the Pakistani who was convicted on Monday of 82 charges, including that of waging war against India, sobbed on hearing the judgment, but was wordless. After it was over, he was hauled back to his prison cell, looking ashen.
But it is not clear when the death penalty will be implemented. Yesterday's judgment will now lead to a long process of appeals before higher courts. If rejected, Kasab can file a petition for clemency before the president of India. It is not clear when Mr Pawar will avail these legal options on behalf of Kasab, if at all. However, the judgment marked the end of a lengthy trial, in one of the deadliest terrorist attacks on Indian soil which claimed 166 lives, including that of 23 foreigners.
"The verdict sends a message to all terrorists: you land in India and you will meet the same fate," said V Moily, India's justice minister. Kasab, dubbed "the baby-faced killer", emerged as the poster boy for terror after he was photographed marching through Mumbai in November 2008 with his gun bared. The attack was carried out on two luxury hotels, a cafe, a train station, and a Jewish community centre. Kasab, along with Abu Ismail, another gunman who was later killed, was involved in spraying a hail of bullets on the crowded Chhatrapati Shivaji train station, killing 70, the deadliest part of the siege.
Kasab represented a unique catch for Indian authorities. He is the first Lashkar-i-Taiba (LiT) operative to be caught alive during a terrorist operation. His co-operation helped lead investigators to the militants who planned the attack, investigators have said. During his trial, Kasab named two Pakistani militants, Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi and "Saeed Bhai" - or brother Saeed, believed to be Hafiz Muhammed Saeed, the founder of LiT - as the mastermind of the attack. Both men were also convicted in absentia by Judge Tahaliyani on Monday, part of 20 "fugitives" guilty of planning the attack.
"[Ajmal Kasab] was captured alive and lived to tell the tale," wrote K Subrahmanyam, the director of the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses in New Delhi, wrote in a recent column in the Indian Express newspaper. "This left Pakistani officials no room to dodge and they had to accept that the terrorist conspiracy was hatched on Pakistani soil by their nationals belonging to the Lashkar-i-Taiba."
When his trial began last May, Kasab was unco-operative with the prosecution, unruly and overly talkative on some occasions, and cold and indifferent on many others. When some witnesses testified against him, he burst into giggles. But as weeks passed, he became quieter. Then suddenly, in July, he stood up in court and confessed. "I do not want punishment from God," he said in a near-theatrical confession. "Whatever I have done in this world I should get punished for it by this world itself."
Just days later, he recanted his confession, claiming that he had arrived in Mumbai to be a Bollywood actor, and was picked up by the police from a beach in Mumbai to be framed in a larger conspiracy. Ujjwal Nikam, the chief prosecutor, said Kasab was a well-trained terrorist who underwent crash courses in dealing with interrogation by investigators. "Kasab is worse than an animal," he said. "He was anxious to attack India," Judge Tahaliyani said, revealing that Kasab was "restless" when he and his nine accomplices were delayed in Karachi before heading to Mumbai in 2008.
Some observers say Kasab's execution will not bring closure as he is but a cog in the wheel, not the brain behind the attack. "Kasab was only the delivery boy of terror," said YP Singh, the former joint commissioner of the Mumbai police. "All those who planned the terror plot are still beyond reach." SM Krishna, India's external affairs minister, said yesterday that his focus now is on finding the men who masterminded the attack in Pakistan.
"A number of others who acted as co-conspirators will also have to be extradited and they should be brought to justice," he said. Residents of Kasab's hometown, Farid Kot, in Punjab province, condemned his sentence yesterday. "He is Pakistani, that's why he is going to be hanged," said Mohammad Ramazan, a retired schoolteacher, told Reuters. "It's a conspiracy." email@example.com