Mumbai gunman withdraws his confession as trial opens

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The Independent Online

The trial of the only surviving suspected gunman in the bloody Mumbai siege began yesterday, with the prosecutor calling the assault a conspiracy "hatched in Pakistan" and the defence lawyer saying his client, Mohammed Ajmal Kasab, was tortured in custody.

The special public prosecutor, Ujjwal Nikam, said the sophistication of the operation suggested the involvement of Pakistani "intelligence professionals".

Investigations are still ongoing to determine the scope of Pakistani involvement in the attack, which killed 166 and injured 304, Mr Nikam said. He maintains the attacks were masterminded by the Muslim militant group Lashkar-e-Toiba.

"There was a criminal conspiracy hatched in Pakistan to attack India," he said, with the "ultimate target of capturing Jammu and Kashmir, which is part and parcel of India." Mr Nikam said that one suspected accomplice, identified in court papers as Colonel R Saadat Ullah, works for an organisation run by the Pakistani army, under the aegis of Pakistan's Ministry of Information. Colonel Ullah, Mr Nikam said, accessed an email account that the terrorists used to set up a crucial internet phone connection.

He said the plot was made possible by a "strategic terrorist culture" that had taken root in Pakistan.

Lashkar-e-Toiba is widely believed to have been created by Pakistani intelligence agencies in the 1980s to fight Indian rule in Kashmir.

India and Pakistan both claim Kashmir and have fought two wars over it. Pakistani officials have acknowledged that the November attacks were partly plotted on their soil and announced criminal proceedings against eight suspects. They have also acknowledged that the defendant in this trial, Mr Kasab, is Pakistani but have repeatedly denied their intelligence agencies were involved in the attack.

Mr Kasab, the alleged gunman, and his co-defendants – two Indians accused of helping plot the attack – have been charged with 12 criminal counts, including murder and waging war against India. If convicted, all could face death by hanging, Mr Nikam said.

In court, Mr Nikam read excerpts of a confession Mr Kasab made to a magistrate in February that details his alleged terror training in Pakistan.

Mr Kasab's lawyer, Abbas Kazmi, asked the court to disregard the confession, saying his client had been tortured while in police custody.

Mr Kazmi, who was appointed to defend Mr Kasab on Thursday, said the confession had been "extracted out of coercion and force. It was not a voluntary statement. He was physically tortured during custody."

Mr Kazmi said that Mr Kasab had told him he wanted the trial to proceed, but he is yet to enter a formal plea.

Mr Nikam said he hopes the case will be finished in six months – which would be extremely fast by the standards of major Indian trials.

His last big case – the trial for India's deadliest terror attack, the 1993 Mumbai bombings that killed 257 people – took 14 years to complete.