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Ajmal Kasab awarded death sentence

06 May, 2010

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MUMBAI: An Indian judge on Thursday condemned to death the sole surviving gunman involved in the 2008 Mumbai siege after a year-long trial over the bloody attacks that traumatised the nation.

 

Judge M.L. Tahaliyani imposed the death penalty against Pakistani national Mohammed Ajmal Amir Kasab on four counts of murder, waging war against India and conspiracy and terrorism offences.

“He should be hanged by the neck until he is dead,” he said. “I don`t find any case for a lesser punishment than death in the case of waging war against India, murder and terrorist acts.”

Kasab, 22, dressed in a traditional white tunic, sat with his head in his hands staring at the floor of the dock as the judge issued the sentence, three days after the Pakistani`s conviction on Monday.

Tahaliyani said the evidence showed “previous, meticulous and systematic planning” of the atrocity, which left 166 people dead and hundreds injured and led India to halt peace talks with its arch-rival Pakistan.

“Brutality was writ large,” he added, and the offences were “of exceptional depravity.”

Branded a “killing machine” and “cruelty incarnate” by the prosecution, Kasab was the only gunman caught alive in the 60-hour assault by 10 militants on hotels, a railway station, a restaurant and Jewish centre.

Observers say the death penalty is likely to trigger a lengthy, possibly open-ended, appeal through the Indian courts.

The government officially supports capital punishment for what the Supreme Court in New Delhi has called the “rarest of rare” cases but no execution has been carried out since 2004 and only two since 1998.

Many pleas for clemency to the president are still pending, including ones from the killers of former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, who was assassinated in 1991, and a Kashmiri separatist who attacked India`s parliament in 2001.

Outside the court, crowds chanted “Victory to Hindustan” while public prosecutor Ujjwal Nikam brandished a poster showing Kasab behind a noose and flashing victory signs to the media.

“Today`s sentencing sends the message that keeping Kasab alive would be a crime in itself,” Nikam said. “Terrorism and terrorists like Kasab cannot be tolerated. The death penalty is the only option.”

Families of some of the victims have long called for Kasab`s execution, and the clamour for him to be sent to the gallows grew louder after Monday`s widely expected guilty verdict by the court in India`s most populous city.

“I am happy, a chapter has closed for me,” said a tearful Sevanti Parekh, who lost his son and daughter-in-law in the attacks in India`s commercial capital. “But I fear for our generation and the next generation.”

Defence lawyer K.P. Pawar had argued against capital punishment, suggesting his client was brainwashed into committing the offences while under the influence of Pakistan-based extremists.

New Delhi, which suspended peace talks with Islamabad after the attacks, wants Pakistan to convict the alleged masterminds, namely the founder of the Lashkar-i-Taiba (LT) militant group, Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi, and key operative Zarar Shah.

Hafiz Saeed, head of the Jamaatud Dawa charity, which is seen as a front for the LT, is the third figure blamed by India.

Since the beginning of Kasab`s trial, new evidence has come to light about the planning of the atrocity after the arrest of Pakistani-American David Headley in Chicago last year.

The 49-year-old, who changed his name from Daood Gilani, admitted to spending two years eluding security forces as he cased out Mumbai for the LT.

Commentators doubt that Kasab`s case will have any effect on either curbing extremism or improving relations between India and Pakistan, which have fought three wars since independence from Britain in 1947.

“If he`s convicted and hanged, it`s still going to be years given our legal system,” the executive director of the Institute of Conflict Management in New Delhi, Ajai Sahni, told AFP.

“The fundamentals of the conflict between India and Pakistan and the trajectory of terrorism are not going to be radically affected by this (case).”

End.

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