Mumbai gunman weeps as judge orders execution

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The Independent Online

The sole surviving militant from the group of Pakistani gunmen who unleashed death and chaos on the city of Mumbai openly wept after a court ordered that he be hanged for "waging war against India".

A judge in Mumbai, where more than 160 people lost their lives during the 2008 siege of part of India' financial capital, said Ajmal Kasab had chosen to train as a militant and could therefore expect no mercy.

Dismissing the arguments of the defendant's barrister, who argued that the 23-year-old had acted under intense pressure from the militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba, Judge ML Tahaliyani said: "Such a person can't be given an opportunity to reform himself."

Whether he is actually ever hanged is less clear. Not only does he have the right of appeal to a higher court and to seek clemency from the president, but bureaucratic hold-ups and a shift away from the death penalty mean that India executes very few prisoners. The last hanging took place in 2004 when a man was executed for the rape and murder of a 14-year-old girl.

Kasab, from a small village in rural Pakistan, was one of a group of 10 militants who stormed ashore from a rubber boat in November 2008 and started attacking several of Mumbai's highest-profile targets.

Yet the young man, notoriously captured on film armed with an AK-47 automatic weapon while walking through the city's main railway station, where more than 60 people were murdered, was the only one taken alive. Since his capture he has variously pleaded guilty and not guilty before police and the courts.

Deven Bharti, one of the senior officers who investigated the attacks, told the Associated Press: "We're all very satisfied. I hope it will be a deterrent for Pakistan so they will stop exporting terrorists across the border."

Yet according to evidence gathered by the Indian authorities, Kasab was initially led to a life of militancy through poverty rather than any particular conviction.

While still a teenager, he was sent from his village in southern Punjab province to go and live with a brother in the city of Lahore as his family could no longer afford to keep him. After falling out with his brother, he slept rough and worked as a labourer before falling into a life of petty crime.

It was then that he and a friend were recruited by a front group for Lashkar-e-Taiba, not because of their religious convictions, but because they believed they would get intensive weapons training that would help them in their criminal careers. He was apparently told his family would receive the equivalent of £800 for the martyrdom mission in Mumbai. Given the number of people killed during the attacks and the way the assault – broadcast live on cable television – reverberated across the country and beyond, it was perhaps little surprise that Kasab was sentenced to death.

In court, Kasab was reportedly seen crying as he was led back to the room after briefly leaving the proceedings, with the judge's permission, to get a glass of water. He returned to his place in the dock, wiping his face, and then sat down with his head bowed. When asked by the judge whether he wanted to say anything he shook his head.

The prosecutor, Ujjwal Nikam, said: "Those were crocodile tears." He recited a Sanskrit verse that says that no matter how much milk is given to a snake, it will always spit venom.

When will kasab be hanged?

The trial judge said yesterday that Ajmal Kasab "shall be hanged by the neck until he is dead" but questions remain over when, and if, that will happen.

Reports suggest that more than 50 prisoners are currently on death row, including people involved in the 1991 assassination of the former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi and the deadly 2001 attack on the country's parliament. India has the death penalty but has not used it since 2004, when it was carried out by an 83-year-old, reports said.

Local media say that no Indian jail now has a hangman, since they have all retired. Many convicts wait until India's bureaucracy effectively transmutes a death sentence into life in prison.

India's prison statistics for 2007, the last available, showed that 881 prisoners had death sentences commuted to life terms. While no one has been hanged for six years, at least 50 people were sentenced to death last year, Amnesty International said.