Kasab guilty of 26/11, Indians absolved


Mumbai: India’s quest for justice for its most wounding terror attack culminated Monday with a special court pronouncing Pakistani Ajmal Amir Kasab guilty on all 86 counts for the 26/11 slaughter while acquitting the two Indian co-accused — Fahim Ansari and Sabauddin Ahmed.

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Winding up the year-long trial into the Nov 26-29 terror siege of Mumbai that ended with 166 Indians and foreigners getting killed and 244 injured, Special Judge M.L. Tahaliyani also found the involvement of 20 other Pakistanis.

Among them were Lashkar-e-Taiba commander Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi, Hafiz Saeed and Abu Hamza, three of the men who used a complex network of agents and killers to mastermind a terror attack that shocked the world.

Kasab, 23, the lone Pakistani captured alive during the Mumbai carnage, was held guilty under nine Indian laws for murder, waging war on India and a litany of other crimes. He listened attentively with his head bowed while Tahaliyani read out the 1,522-page verdict for almost three hours in a special courtroom in the high-security Arthur Road Jail.

His conviction was based on CCTV footage showing him striding across the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus with an AK-47 and a backpack. The prosecution had called 653 witnesses to testify against the LeT operative born to poverty in a village in Pakistan’s Punjab province.

The judge ruled that Kasab was guilty of directly killing seven people and a total of 59 with associate Abu Ismail, who was shot dead after running into a police picket at Girgaun Chowpatty early Nov 27 – shortly after the terror assault began in the heart of India’s financial capital on Nov 26 night.

Kasab, who faces possible death sentence, sat through the hearing quietly, witnesses said. When the judge read out the guilty verdict, Kasab listened with his head bowed. Judge Tahaliyani then asked the defence counsel to explain the details to Kasab.

The process of sentencing will begin Tuesday.

Indians Ansari, 36, and Ahmed, 25, also showed no emotion as they were absolved of involvement in the attack that derailed relations between New Delhi Islamabad.

Ansari, from Goregaon here, and Ahmed, from Madhubani in Bihar, had been charged with conspiracy by preparing maps of the targeted locations in Mumbai and handing them to LeT operatives.

While Law Minister M. Veerappa Moily extolled the trial as a “victory for the judiciary, a victory for the country”, his colleague Home Minister P. Chidambaram said it underlined that India was a “country governed by rule of law”.

“The judgment is itself a message to Pakistan that they should not export terror to India…,” Chidambaram said in New Delhi, adding the acquittal showed the “independence and integrity” of the Indian judicial process.

Special Prosecutor Ujjwal Nikam was taken aback by the release of the two Indians. He said the acquittal would be challenged in the higher courts. He maintained that Ansari and Ahmed were “notorious terrorists” and active members of the LeT.

The judge accepted the 42-page confession Kasab had given after his arrest. Kasab had later sought to deny his involvement, but the judge was not not swayed by the half-hearted denials.

Besides various sections of the Indian Penal Code, Kasab faced charges under the Explosives Act, Arms Act, Passport Act, Prevention of Damage to Public Properties Act, Customs Act, Explosive Substances Act, Bombay Police Act, Foreigners Act and Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act.

The 60-hour audacious attack that began on the night of Nov 26, 2008 and went on till the afternoon of Nov 29, 2009 was carried out by 10 Pakistani terrorists including Kasab.

They targeted sites like the crowded Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus railway station, the iconic Taj Mahal Palace and Tower Hotel, the nearby Hotel Oberoi-Trident, the Cama Hospital and the Chabad House, a Jewish prayer centre, and Leopold Café, a hangout popular with Indians and foreigners.

Almost 18 months later, survivors and family members of those who were killed said judgment day had left them satisfied.

Most were rooting for death sentence. Deepak, son of assistant sub-inspector Balasaheb Bhonsale who was killed, said: “No pity should be taken on him. His death is the only way to pay tribute to those policemen who laid their lives fighting the terrorists.”