By Emily Wax
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, February 26, 2009
NEW DELHI, Feb. 25 -- The lone surviving gunman from last year's Mumbai attacks was charged Wednesday with "waging war against India," along with murder and 11 other crimes -- the first formal charges in the deadly three-day rampage in the country's financial capital.
Pakistani citizen Ajmal Amir Kasab, 21, has become the public face of the attacks, his grim stare caught on security cameras as he and a fellow assailant sprayed the crowded Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus train station with bullets. Kasab faces the death penalty if found guilty.
Two Pakistani army officials accused of training the gunmen also were among those charged, said Rakesh Maria, the chief Indian investigator in the case. Maria said the two Pakistani officials would be investigated by their government, but he did not give their names or ranks.
India has linked Pakistani security agencies to the attacks, an accusation Pakistan has denied. The attacks renewed tensions between the nuclear-armed neighbors, which have fought three wars since 1947.
The 60-hour siege of two popular hotels, a cafe, a Jewish center and other sites in Mumbai left more than 170 people dead, including six Americans. Special public prosecutor Ujjwal Nikam, waving the 11,280-page charge sheet, told reporters that it contains accounts of more than 2,000 witnesses. It names about three dozen other people alleged to have helped plan the attacks.
"The crime branch has done good work during the investigation. It is a mammoth charge sheet," Nikam said.
India has accused Pakistan of hindering the investigation. But Pakistan appears to have cooperated in recent weeks after stepped-up international pressure, diplomats in New Delhi said.
The charge sheet contains evidence provided by the FBI, which aided in the probe. Analysts here say that the FBI would be a likely go-between for India and Pakistan during the ongoing investigation. They say it is doubtful that Pakistan would allow Indian detectives into the country.
The charge sheet includes transcripts of reported phone calls between the attackers and their handlers in Pakistan, as well as images from video footage of the attack sites. The list of charges against Kasab is thorough: He is even cited for entering a train station without a ticket.
In addition, two Indian nationals, Fahim Ansari and Sabauddin, are accused of providing maps for the attacks. The two suspects, accompanied by their attorneys, were wearing black hoods when they were escorted into the courtroom.
Nine other assailants were killed during the attacks that brought India's most populous city to a standstill and prompted prayer vigils from Israel to Virginia. India has blamed the attack on Lashkar-i-Taiba, or Army of the Pious, an Islamist militant group widely thought to be a creation of Pakistani intelligence agencies in the 1980s. Pakistan blamed the assault on "non-state actors," countering India's assertion that officials in Pakistan's intelligence services were involved.
Pakistan acknowledged earlier this month for the first time that the Mumbai attacks were at least partially plotted on its soil and announced criminal proceedings against eight suspects, including one it described as the ringleader, Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, who was among those arrested in Pakistan.
News channels across India still show footage from the attacks: the burning Taj Mahal Palace & Tower and Oberoi Trident hotels, the phalanx of black-clad special forces teams, the closed-circuit television images of the attackers spraying gunfire at the city's main train station.
Since the attacks, hotels across India have started to look like fortresses, with cars and guests made to undergo a gamut of security checks. At the Taj hotel, where the siege ended in a fiery shootout, security guards are posted on each floor. A memorial is set up in the lobby, with a large stone tablet bearing the names of guests and hotel staff members who died in the assault.
Nikam, the special prosecutor, said he would try to wind up the trial within six months, an uncommonly short deadline in a country where trials often drag on for years.
Experts here say the trial could become more complicated, with Pakistan sending to India a list of 30 questions about fingerprints and DNA samples of all the attackers.
Analysts in India's capital said the case will be a test of Pakistan's sincerity about helping determine who is behind the attacks. Brajesh Mishra, a former Indian national security adviser, said he was skeptical.
"The pressure needs to stay on Pakistan to the very last day this gets solved," Mishra said. "If the terror tap is not turned off, if this is not stopped, there will be another attack. And then there will be a war."