India gives death penalty to gunman in Mumbai terrorist attack

By Rama Lakshmi
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 6, 2010; 11:57 AM

NEW DELHI -- The lone surviving Pakistani gunman in a 2008 terrorist attack on Mumbai was sentenced Thursday to die for his role in the bloody siege that killed about 166 people and strained relations between nuclear-armed neighbors India and Pakistan.

Ajmal Amir Kasab, 22, convicted of killing 52 people, sat still in the courtroom looking ashen and staring at the floor. He wept as the judge, M.L. Tahiliyani, sentenced him to death by hanging for four offenses, including murder and waging war against India.

Ten militants attacked a railway station, two five-star hotels, a restaurant and a Jewish outreach center in the November 2008 siege of Mumbai, India's financial nerve center. Surveillance cameras showed Kasab shooting people with an automatic weapon at the railway station before police arrested him on the first night of the attack.

According to lawyers and police officers present in the courtroom, the judge said, "The common man will lose faith in the courts if this man is let loose, if death is not awarded."

Ujjwal Nikam, the prosecution lawyer, said Kasab went out for a drink of water just before the sentence was read out. When the judge asked him if he had anything to say, Kasab shook his head and sat down.

"If he did [cry], they were crocodile tears," Nikam said of Kasab's reaction to the sentence. Holding up a notebook with the cover picture showing Kasab and a large noose, Nikam said, "I am happy today because my efforts at healing the wounds of the victims and wiping their tears have been successful."

In New Delhi, law minister Veerappa Moily called the death sentence "a message to all terrorists: if you land in India, you will meet this fate."

In the run-up to the sentencing, television channels across India ran heated debates about whether Kasab should be executed -- a rare penalty in India. In bazaars across New Delhi, people gathered around community television sets watching the news at beauty salons, grocery stores and TV showrooms. At one pharmacy shop, a small group of men clapped when the verdict was announced.

"Kasab deserves death, even though this cannot bring back those he killed," said Om Prakash Jain, a pharmacist in central Delhi.

On Monday, Kasab was convicted of most of 80 charges against him, including waging war against the Indian state, murder and smuggling of arms into Mumbai. On Tuesday, Nikam demanded the death penalty for Kasab, calling him a "mad dog," "a snake" and "an agent of death." Kasab's defense lawyer, K.P. Pawar, argued for life imprisonment, saying his client was young and needed a chance for reform.

Under the Indian judicial system, Kasab has the right to appeal in a higher court, which will scrutinize the sentence, after which he can also take his case to the Supreme Court. Legal analysts said that he also can appeal to the Indian president for mercy.

According to the National Crime Records Bureau, more than 300 convicts -- including the 1991 assassins of Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi -- have been on death row for years. About 50 mercy petitions are pending with President Pratibha Patil. The last execution took place in 2004.

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