x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Mumbai gunman guilty of 'act of war'

Court also convicts 20 fugitives in 'message to Pakistan' over terrorist assault on Mumbai in 2008 that killed 166 people.

MUMBAI // A special anti-terror court yesterday convicted Mohammed Ajmal Kasab of murder, criminal conspiracy and waging war against India in the terrorist assault on Mumbai in 2008 that killed 166 people, all charges that potentially carry the death penalty. "It was not a simple act of terror," said the judge, ML Tahaliyani, reading out a summary of his 1,522-page judgment. "It was a brazen act of war against India."

Kasab, the sole survivor from the attack's 10 gunmen, was photographed spraying bullets from an AK-47 rifle in a commando-style raid on the busy Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus railway station in Mumbai. That image, along with CCTV footage, proved to be decisive in convicting Kasab, along with the evidence of more than 600 witnesses. Kasab's conviction was expected: since his trial began a year ago, prosecution lawyers have said the case was "open and shut". But Judge Tahaliyani acquitted his two co-defendants - Faheem Ansari and Sabauddin Ahmed - on all charges. Ansari and Ahmed, Indian nationals, were accused of abetting the gunmen and preparing maps of the targets, including two hotels, the station and a Jewish community centre, for Lashkar-i-Taiba (LiT), the Pakistan-based militant group India accuses of masterminding the attack.

Judge Tahaliyani rebuked the prosecution for furnishing "unreliable" evidence against them - mainly frayed, handmade maps - saying he had seen better maps of the targets on Google. But, more significantly, the court found 20 "fugitives" guilty for the attack, including Hafiz Saeed, the founder of LiT, and its operational commander, Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi. Both men live in Pakistan and rank high on India's most-wanted list.

Judge Tahaliyani pointed out that there was enough evidence to conclude the attack was plotted in Pakistan: GPS systems retrieved from the slain attackers revealed they came from Karachi; mobile phones were bought in Pakistan; and the Yamaha outboard engine that the attackers used on their dinghy to land in Mumbai was sourced in Pakistan. "The judgment itself is a message to Pakistan they should not export terror to India," P Chidambaram, India's home minister said while speaking to reporters in New Delhi.

Diplomatic relations between the two nuclear rivals soured after the attack. India broke off peace talks, accusing Pakistan of breeding an anti-India terrorist network. After much international pressure, Pakistan admitted the attack was hatched on its soil, but India accuses it of dragging its feet in apprehending Mr Saeed, the alleged mastermind of the attack. Pakistan has been demanding that India furnish more evidence against him. India says it supplied a set of seven dossiers after the attack, which carried ample evidence against Mr Saeed to warrant his arrest and trial.

Yesterday's verdict, observers say, is unlikely to break the diplomatic stalemate. Judge Tahaliyani is expected to begin proceedings today to hear arguments over what sentence should be given to Kasab. He is expected to receive life in prison or the death penalty. The prosecution is asking for a death sentence, though some Indian lawyers say that would be the wrong sentence. "Death penalty, it has been found, is not really any greater deterrence to the people who commit these heinous kinds of crimes than the prospect of life imprisonment," said Prashant Bhushan, an eminent lawyer in Mumbai.

But this is not the sentiment echoed by many of the victims' families. "He ought to be hanged," said Adhikrao Kale, 39, a police constable, who was shot by Kasab while on duty at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus. His intestine was nearly ruptured by the bullet that ricocheted off his stomach and got lodged in the upper abdomen. A year and a half later, Mr Kale still struggles to keep his back straight to sit up. Still scarred by the spectacular attack, he said Kasab is a reviled criminal who deserves no leniency. "A precedent must be set for other terrorists who wish to wage war against India," he said.

Arun Jadhav witnessed Mr Kasab shooting six of colleagues. A police constable, Mr Jadhav was in a jeep on the fateful night with six other policemen, including Hemant Karkare, the chief of Mumbai's anti-terrorism squad and Vijay Salaskar, a senior police inspector. As the jeep careered around a bank, it was hijacked by Kasab and another gunman after they killed Karkare and Salaskar. Mr Jadhav was shot three times, but he was the only one in the jeep who survived. He was writhing in pain, buried under the weight of the corpses of his colleagues in the back seat, as the jeep was taken over by the two terrorists. He was unable to reach for his gun.

"When I was in the jeep, all I wanted to do was gun him down," said Mr Jadhav, who also said he his wracked by survivor's guilt. "But I'm glad he survived. India found new leads into the investigation, important information about the brains behind the attack through this lone survivor." During the course of his trial, Kasab revealed several details of his role in the attack. A poor village boy, he was recruited and trained in Pakistan to be a fedayeen, or suicide attacker. He recounted how he and the other gunmen, each with a bag containing an AK-47 rifle, a pistol, eight hand grenades and three sets of two magazines each, journeyed from Karachi to Mumbai on a mission to "kill as many people as possible". He also reportedly named some LiT operatives who masterminded the attack.

"Bringing Kasab to justice will not bring back those who lost their lives," said JK Dutt, the former director general of India's National Security Guard, who lost two of his officers in the attack. "But it will be some consolation to the families of the victims left grieving."
achopra@thenational.ae