Four years after playing his part in carrying out the worst terrorist attack in Indian history, Ajmal Kasab, the lone surviving gunman from the 2008 assault on Mumbai, was secretly hanged in an Indian jail in Pune.
When authorities announced the execution of the Pakistani national it was met with celebration on the streets.
“All the police officers and personnel who lost their life in the battle against the terrorists have today been served justice,” said the Home Minister, Sushil Kumar Shinde, in Delhi.
In Pakistan, the secret hanging, codenamed “Operation X”, was seen as an attempt by the Indian government to prove itself tough on terrorism. India is waiting for Islamabad to bring to justice the Pakistani masterminds of the attacks.
The 2008 attacks, which killed 166 people remain a painful wound in the India-Pakistan relationship. During the siege, Kasab was famously photographed in Mumbai’s main railway terminus where he and an accomplice killed 52 people. He was charged with 86 offences, including murder and waging war against the Indian state, and was sentenced to death in 2010.
During the 60-hour Mumbai siege, Kasab was famously photographed in Mumbai’s main railway terminus where he and an accomplice killed 52 people.
Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, a spokesman for India’s main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, said the execution “sends out a strong message and warning to India’s enemies and to forces across the border that are running factories of terrorism”.
Meanwhile, Lashkar-e-Taiba, the jihadist group that sent Kasab and the nine other gunmen from Pakistan to Mumbai in late November 2008, called Kasab a “hero” and vowed to carry more attacks. “He will inspire other fighters to follow his path,” a commander of Lashkar-e-Taiba told Reuters.
The Mumbai strike brought India and Pakistan close to war, as India considered retaliation or at least surgical strikes on Lashkar-e-Taiba training camps inside Pakistan. Another major attack would shatter the subsequent halting peace talks between the two nuclear-armed neighbours.
Mr Shinde said it had been “important” that the execution be conducted in secret, but many criticised the move. “A transparent approach would have given... a clear warning to terrorist groups, and most important, confidence to the citizens that the state is capable of dispensing justice,” the India Against Corruption group said in a statement.
As a teenager, Kasab left his home in Faridkot, a poor village in the economically backward south of Punjab province – a known recruiting ground for jihadists preying on disillusioned young men with few prospects. He joined Lashkar-e-Taiba, a huge and well organised Pakistani jihadist group that is focused on India.
“This news is hell for us,” Kasab’s aunt, Shahnaz Sughra, said yesterday. “Even if he did something wrong, we just want his body... I am proud that he taught the enemy a lesson in their own country.”
Pakistan denied that Kasab was one of its own for months after the attack and even after a foreign journalist found his home in Faridkot. India produced dossier after dossier of “evidence” that Lashkar-e-Taiba has carried out the attack, prompting Pakistan to launch its own investigation.
Today, seven people in Pakistan are in jail and under trial, including Zaki- ur Rehman Lakhvi, the alleged mastermind of the Mumbai attacks and the operational commander of Lashkar-e-Taiba. However, the supposed leader of the extremist group, Hafiz Saeed, remains free inside Pakistan, while Lakhvi reportedly continues to run his operations from inside the prison.
For India, the trial in Pakistan is proceeding far too slowly, while it also wants to see Hafiz Saeed behind bars – as does the United States, which has placed a $10m (£6.3m) bounty on his head and declared that his group has close ties to al-Qa’ida. Pakistan says there is no evidence against him.
What remains unclear is if there was, as India alleges, any official help or sanction given by Pakistan’s military or Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) spy agencies for the Mumbai attack. The ISI had strong ties to Lashkar-e-Taiba in the past, but denies involvement in the attacks.
Survivors how they reacted
“It was around 9:45pm and I was about to shut shop. I was near my cash counter when all of a sudden I saw people throwing grenades. I saw a man coming towards me holding something long in his hand. After that I didn’t see anything...
“This [execution] is the best possible New Year gift one can get.”
Mukesh Agrawal was shot in the stomach during Kasab’s attack on Mumbai’s Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus train station.
“Suddenly intense firing began, so we ran to the nearby Taj Hotel. There we saw blood everywhere and people dying, so we got out, and ran to the train station to go home, only to find people being killed there too... We lay down at the station pretending to be dead on the ground. Only two in our group of nine survived.”
Kaizad Bhamgara, who told the BBC he will celebrate Kasab’s execution with friends.
“Kasab’s death is a kind of closure that brings peace, after a lot of unrest in the city. Now it’s time to move on... Forgiveness is a bridge to peace... It doesn’t mean I’m not outraged but I’m not going to spend my life in anger and resentment.”
Kia Scherr, whose husband and daughter were killed in the attack on the Oberoi hotel during the siege.