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Security tight as India braces for Mumbai attacks verdict

Text by Leela JACINTO

Latest update : 2010-05-03

A special court in the Indian commercial capital is expected to deliver a verdict on Mohammad Ajmal Kasab, the alleged sole surviving gunman of the 2008 Mumbai attacks, and two other men accused of helping the ten gunmen plan the attacks.

Security was tight around a special court in a high-security prison in Mumbai Monday, as the country awaited the verdict on the alleged sole surviving gunman of the 2008 attacks in the Indian commercial capital.

Mohammad Ajmal Kasab, a 22-year-old Pakistani national faces 86 charges, including "waging war against the state," an offense which carries the death penalty under Indian law.

The attacks, which began on the night of Nov. 26, 2008, left more than 166 people dead in the course of a 62-hour killing spree at some of the city’s landmark locations.

Footage of a smartly-dressed, heavily armed Kasab stalking a railway station during the attack gained worldwide notoriety. The CCTV footage was included in the testimonies, as was a photograph of Kasab at the station, along with mobile phone transcripts and witness accounts.

The judge is also expected to deliver verdicts on two other Indian men - Fahim Ansari and Sabahuddin Ahmed - who are accused of helping the ten gunmen plan the attacks.
The three accused were present at the court Monday as Judge M.L. Tahaliyani began reading the verdict, according to reporters in the courtroom.

It was not yet clear whether both the verdict and sentence would be delivered Monday.

‘Personally, I find it difficult’

For the families of the more than 166 victims, Monday’s verdict marks the end of over 16-months waiting for justice.

A day before the verdict, Kavita Karkare, the wife of Hemant Karkare, the former chief of Mumbai’s Anti-Terrorist Squad who was killed in an encounter with the gunmen, said she would be monitoring the verdict although she has not followed the 191-day trial closely.

“For me, I’ve found it too difficult on a personal level,” Karkare told FRANCE 24 in a phone interview from Mumbai. “I am in contact with the families of the other victims of the attack, I keep meeting them and, as a group, we have been following the trial. But personally, I find it difficult.”

A fast-track trial

The verdict comes more than 16 months after the attack at the end of a complex trial that was simultaneously conducted in four languages and saw hundreds of witnesses take the stand at a special court set up in Mumbai’s high security Arthur Road Jail. The charge sheet itself runs into 11,000 pages.

But by the sclerotic standards of the heavily overburdened Indian justice system, the Mumbai attacks trial has been speedy, said Shishir Joshi, a veteran city journalist and co-founder of the Mumbai-based Journalism Mentor, a media training facility.

“This is a massive trial that has been put on a fast-track. We’ve never seen anything like this in modern Indian history,” said Joshi, who compared it to the trial of the 1993 serial bombing attacks in Mumbai, which ran for more than a decade. More than 250 people were killed in that single-day attack and the Indian government maintains that the mastermind of the serial bombings was aided by Pakistani authorities, charges Islamabad has denied.

While Pakistan initially denied that Kasab was a Pakistani national, Islamabad later acknowledged that he hailed from the Pakistani province of Punjab and that the 2008 Mumbai attacks were partially planned in its territory.

Indian officials say the attacks were masterminded by Lashkar-e -Taiba, a Pakistan-based militant group. Pakistani authorities have arrested seven men, including Zaki ur Rehman Lakhvi, the alleged military commander of Lashkar-e-Taiba.

The attacks increased tensions between the two nuclear-armed South Asian foes, with New Delhi suspending peace talks with Islamabad. In recent days, the two governments have made tentative moves to resume a dialogue.

Erratic behaviour in court

The trial of the alleged sole surviving gunman of what is commonly referred to as “26/11”, in a reference to the night the attacks began, has gripped the nation.

A high-school dropout from an impoverished rural family in the Punjab, Kasab’s behaviour in court has been erratic throughout the trial.

On July 20, 2009, Kasab made a shock announcement that he wished to confess to the attacks. He was granted time in court the next day. But his confession was inconsistent and selective, leading Public Prosecutor Ujjwal Nikam to decide against admitting the confession.

Kasab later retracted his confession, saying he had been forced to confess by the police. He has also argued, at various stages, that he was framed and that the man in the CCTV footage and still photograph was his “double”.

In recent days, reporters present in the court say the once confident suspect now appears subdued.

The prosecution has asked for the death sentence and observers expect the maximum punishment to be meted out. Under Indian law, Kasab is entitled to an appeals process in a higher court.

Date created : 2010-05-03


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