Mumbai Attacks Trial Closes, Verdict Due May 3


mumbai-attackerThe trial of a Pakistani accused of being in a 10-man team of gunmen who killed 166 people during a rampage through Mumbai in 2008 closed on Wednesday after a year of dramatic courtroom testimony.

The judge will deliver a verdict on May 3 on 22-year-old Mohammed Ajmal Kasab, said to be the lone surviving gunman from the attacks, which traumatised India and strained already tense relations with Pakistan.

The prosecution has demanded the death penalty for Kasab and presented evidence it considers overwhelmingly proves his guilt, including a photo of him carrying an AK-47 machine gun through the main train terminal in Mumbai.

The school dropout is accused on scores of charges including waging war against India and murder over three days of carnage from November 26-29 which targeted luxury hotels, a restaurant, the railway station and a Jewish centre.

“Now my job begins. May 3 will be the day of judgement,” Judge M. L. Tahaliyani said after final legal arguments in the special courtroom set up in a prison in Mumbai.

Kasab, dressed in a traditional long white shirt from his native state of Punjab, in Pakistan, was subdued as the trial ended. He held a handkerchief to his face for much of the day as he stood in the dock.

During his final arguments earlier this month, state prosecutor Ujjwal Nikam had called Kasab a “conniving, depraved murderer” who was trained by the Pakistan-based Islamist group Lashkar-e-Taiba.

“The case against Kasab is overwhelming and enough evidence has been given of Pakistani involvement,” Nikam told the court.

Kasab initially pleaded not guilty when the trial started in April, but in July made a shock confession, admitting being one of two gunmen who opened fire at the train station.

He also detailed how the group was trained by the banned LeT, and he then asked for swift justice.

“Please go ahead and hang me,” he said at the time. But in December he retracted his confession, saying he had been framed by police after coming to Mumbai to seek a career in the Bollywood film industry.

“Kasab has taken different defences in order to save his skin,” Nikam told reporters.

Kasab’s lawyer, K.P. Pawar, had said the confession was “nothing but a manipulated and fabricated document of the prosecution” and that he had shown the “improbabilities” of the case against his client.

Kasab and an alleged accomplice who died are accused of taking part in the bloodiest episode in the 60-hour reign of terror, opening fire with AK-47 assault rifles and throwing grenades in the train station.

Some 52 people died and 109 others were wounded there.

The psychological impact of the attacks on Indians is often compared by local commentators and media to the September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States.

Millions watched in horror as ill-equipped security forces struggled to stem the killings in the country’s financial and entertainment capital.

As well as sparking increased defence spending and tighter security, the attacks badly strained already tense ties between India and Pakistan because of the alleged involvement of the Pakistani army.

India believes LeT is given support by the Pakistani army and intelligence services — accusations strongly denied by Islamabad — and after the Mumbai attacks New Delhi broke off a slow-moving peace process begun in 2003.

Seven alleged Pakistani planners of the attacks are on trial in their home country, where the case has been regularly delayed and adjourned.

The judge in Mumbai will also give his verdict on two Indian men — Fahim Ansari and Sabahuddin Ahmed — who are accused of helping the gunmen plan the attacks. They both deny the charges.

Pakistan and India have fought three wars since partition of the subcontinent in 1947 and remain at loggerheads over the disputed region of Kashmir, which they currently administer jointly but claim in full.

Recent events in the United States have also shed light on the planning of the assault after the arrest of a man born of US and Pakistani parents, David Headley, who has pleaded guilty to assisting the Mumbai attackers.

{Reuters/Noam Newscenter}