National/World

Indian court convicts Pakistani for Mumbai siege

Monday, May 03, 2010
Ajmal Kasab

Photo of Ajmal Kasab during Nov. 26, 2008 terrorist attack in Mumbai.

An Indian court on Monday convicted a Pakistani man of murder and waging war for his role in the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks that left 166 people dead in the heart of India's financial capital. Two Indians accused of helping plot the attacks were acquitted.

Mohammed Ajmal Kasab, the lone survivor of the attack's 10 gunmen, sat impassively with his head bowed as the verdicts were read. He was convicted in one of the siege's bloodiest episodes, when he and an accomplice killed and wounded dozens of people at one of Mumbai's busiest train stations. Photos of Kasab striding through the station, an assault rifle in his hand, became iconic images of the attacks.

Kasab was convicted on nearly all the 86 charges against him, including murder and waging war against India. While an exact total of the convictions was not immediately available, the handful of acquittals appear to have been for relatively minor charges, such as forging an identification card. Sentencing is expected to be Tuesday. He faces a possible death sentence.

The siege deeply shook India, despite the country's long history of terror attacks. The violence stretched over three days and left corpses scattered through some of the city's best-known places. Millions of people stayed glued to their televisions to watch it unfold.

The siege sparked calls for a wholesale restructuring in the country's poorly trained and underfunded security forces, though few major changes ever took place.

The attacks and the subsequent investigation also added enormous pressure to India and Pakistan's already tense relations. The two countries' formal peace process was suspended in the wake of the violence.

India's Home Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram said Monday that "the judgment in itself is a message to Pakistan that they should not export terror to India. If they do and if the terrorists are apprehended, we will be able to bring them to justice and give them an exemplary punishment."

In Pakistan, Interior Minister Rehman Malik took a cautious line, saying "we respect and we will respect the Indian court verdict. ... When the full verdict comes we will see and then give a formal reaction."

Judge M.L. Tahiliyani said the gunmen in three-day siege came ready for sustained urban combat, bringing with them everything from machine-guns to a GPS device.

"These types of preparations are not normally made by ordinary criminals. These are made in an organized type of war," he said. Tahiliyani acquitted Fahim Ansari and Sabauddin Ahmed, two Indians who had been accused of helping plot the attacks, saying that the evidence against them "doesn't inspire confidence in my mind."

Fahim Ansari's wife, Yasmin Ansari, told reporters that her husband had been falsely implicated.

"We had to undergo a lot of suffering. We feel relieved today."

India blames a Pakistan-based militant group, Lashkar-e-Taiba, for masterminding the attack. In his verdict, the judge said Kasab was a member of the group and that Kasab's handlers were in Pakistan.

The evidence against Kasab included footage from closed circuit cameras in and around the train station and the testimony of more than 600 witnesses.

The trial was conducted in four languages in a special court in Mumbai's high security Arthur Road Jail, where Kasab has been held since his arrest. He was arrested on the first night of the siege.

On Monday, security at the prison and the surrounding areas was exceptionally tight, with armed police and paramilitary troops on alert.

During the siege the gunmen stormed two luxury hotels, a Jewish center run by the ultra-Orthodox Chabad-Lubavitch movement and the train station.

Six people were killed at the Chabad House, including Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg and his wife, Rivka. Their 2-year-old son Moshe survived the attack, rescued by an Indian caretaker.

"After such a thing, the pain comes back, even stronger. The conviction of the Pakistani doesn't comfort us at all, of course, because Gabi and Rivki can't come back to us until the dead are resurrected," Rabbi Shimon Rosenberg, Rivka Holtzberg's father, told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.

Despite its complexity, the trial lasted only about a year - unusual speed for India's notoriously slow judicial system. One of the memorable moments in the trial came in July, when Kasab made a surprise confession, admitting to committing the killings. He later retracted that statement, saying he had been tortured.

The judge said the confession was not made under duress and was largely corroborated by other evidence.

Islamabad has asked India to hand over Kasab and co-defendant Fahim Ansari so they could be tried in Pakistan. India has not responded to the request.

Pakistan has arrested and charged seven people suspected of involvement in the attack, but top Lashkar leader Hafiz Muhammad Saeed is not among them, much to India's ire.

Pakistan has promised to expedite its planned trial of suspects - a key demand of India. The two countries' leaders agreed last week that their foreign ministers would meet, a key step toward resuming the formal peace dialogue.

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Associated Press reporters Rajesh Shah in Mumbai, Ashraf Khan in Karachi and Amy Teibel in Jerusalem contributed to this report.

(Copyright ©2014 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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