NEW DELHI — India on Wednesday hanged the lone surviving gunman from the coordinated terrorist attacks in Mumbai four years ago that left 166 people dead, including six Americans.
Ajmal Amir Kasab, a Pakistani citizen, was one of 10 heavily armed terrorists who sailed into Mumbai, India’s financial hub, and launched assaults on several sites, including two five-star hotels, the city’s main train station, a restaurant and a Jewish prayer center.
India’s home minister, Sushil Kumar Shinde, told reporters in New Delhi that Kasab was hanged at 7:30 a.m. at a jail in Pune city, outside Mumbai. The hanging came just five days ahead of the fourth anniversary of the attack.
“It was decided on the 7th of November. It was important to keep it a secret,” Shinde said. He added that Pakistan so far has not asked for Kasab’s body. “We have informed Pakistan,” he said. “If they demand it, we will hand over the body.”
Prithviraj Chavan, the chief minister of the state of Maharashtra, of which Mumbai is the capital, said Kasab had been buried in Pune.
For many Indians, Kasab’s trial became a symbol of India’s resolve to tackle terrorism emanating from Pakistan. “There is a rule of law that is followed in India, whether he is an Indian citizen or not,” Chavan said. “This shows that whatever time and money it takes, justice will be done.”
Kasab was asked whether he had any last wish or wanted to write his will. He said in writing that he did not feel the need to do so, Chavan said.
The Supreme Court confirmed the death penalty for Kasab in August, and Indian President Pranab Mukherjee rejected his appeal for mercy Nov. 5. Capital punishment is legal in India, but the Supreme Court has ruled that it should be carried out only in the “rarest of rare cases.” Kasab’s hanging was the second since 1995, but the government jumped the line of 16 others whose mercy petitions were pending with Mukherjee.
By Indian standards, under which courts can take several decades to issue a conclusive ruling, Kasab’s trial and hanging have been remarkably quick. In one of the most keenly watched trials in India in recent times, the government set up a special fast-track court that met daily inside a high-security jail.
The convicted terrorist was kept in a bomb-proof, egg-shaped cell in a Mumbai jail for four years, and every detail of his life — from his daily diet to the newspaper he read and how much money was being spent on keeping him alive — made headlines in the Indian media.
“I wondered many times if I will be able to see Kasab hanged in my own lifetime. I am very happy with the justice given by the Indian government,” Geeta Salaskar, the wife of a police officer killed in the attack, told the Indian news channel ABP News. “But still, this is not complete justice, because the masterminds in Pakistan are yet to be punished.”
On Tuesday, India voted against a U.N. draft resolution that called for abolishing the death penalty, arguing that it was a sovereign right of a nation to frame its own laws.
“The hanging of Ajmal Kasab marks a concerning end to the country’s moratorium on capital punishment,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director of Human Rights Watch. “Instead of resorting to the use of execution to address heinous crime, India should join the rising ranks of nations that have taken the decision to remove the death penalty from their legal frameworks.”
India and the United States have accused members of the Pakistani militant group, Lashkar-i-Taiba, of planning, training for and carrying out the attacks.
According to Reuters news agency, Ihsanullah Ihsan, a spokesman for Pakistan’s Taliban movement, said it was “shocking news and a big loss that a Muslim has been hanged on Indian soil.” The report also quoted a senior leader of Lashkar-i-Taiba as calling Kasab a “hero” who “will inspire other fighters to follow his path.”
Indian investigators have asked Pakistan in vain for access to men accused of training the 10 Mumbai gunmen. Indian officials have also complained about the slow progress of investigations and trials in Pakistan.
Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid said Wednesday that India’s patience was not limitless but added he was “cautiously hopeful” that Pakistan might take some action in the matter, partly thanks to U.S. pressure.
“This is not an issue that time will make us forget or bypass,” he said. “There has to be some progress on this issue, but we don’t want to sound like a stuck record.”
Ujwal Nikam, the prosecution lawyer in Kasab’s trial, said in a phone interview from Mumbai that he was “very happy” about the hanging because he had been in a position to bring justice to those killed in the attack.
“We established through the legal process how terror was exported to India from Pakistan,” he said. “This will make Indians very happy because ultimately Kasab got a harsh punishment that is similar to the manner in which he mercilessly killed innocent people that day.”
Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, a spokesman for the Bharatiya Janata Party, a Hindu nationalist party that demanded a speedy hanging, told the television agency ANI that the execution was “better late than never.”
“This is not just a hanging of a terrorist but is a stern warning to the terror factory that produces people like Kasab,” Naqvi said.
A Congress Party lawmaker from Mumbai, Sanjay Nirupam, said the hanging was not a cause for celebration.
“All those people who demanded that Kasab be hanged in public, or questioned why the government gave him a defense lawyer, or why he was being kept alive and fed in jail, have got their answer today,” Nirupam said.
Mukesh Agarawal, who was wounded by Kasab during the attacks, described the hanging as the best gift the government could have given him.
“My phone has not stopped ringing; everybody is calling to wish me a long life and congratulate me,” said Agarawal, 52, who ran a food court in the train station that was attacked by the terrorists. “The bullets hit my abdomen and chest. I was in a coma for 15 days. I have 50 stitches in my stomach. But today I feel peace in my heart.”
Simon Denyer contributed to this report.