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Gunman Ajmal Amir Kasab sentenced to die for 2008 Mumbai attacks

By Rama Lakshmi
Friday, May 7, 2010; A14

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 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 center. Surveillance cameras recorded 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 prosecutor, said Kasab went out for a drink of water just before the sentence was read out. When the judge asked him whether 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 a picture on the cover of Kasab and a 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, India's 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 penalty rarely applied in India. Across New Delhi, people gathered around television sets at beauty salons, grocery stores and TV showrooms to watch the news. At one pharmacy, a small group of men clapped when the sentence was announced.

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

On Monday, Kasab was convicted of most of 80 charges against him, including waging war against the Indian state, murder and smuggling arms into Mumbai. On Tuesday, Nikam demanded the death penalty, calling Kasab a "mad dog," "a snake" and "an agent of death."

Kasab's lawyer, K.P. Pawar, argued for life imprisonment, saying his client was young and should have a chance to reform.

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

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

"I have not yet spoken to him about the future course of action," Pawar said of his client. "If an accused is not satisfied with the verdict, he can appeal in higher court. This is not mud wrestling. There is no question of victory or defeat."

But relatives of victims are impatient with the judicial process and say the government should not spend more money keeping Kasab alive and in custody.

"I want no delay. Kasab should be hung immediately. He has no right to live," said Praveen Narkar, the 26-year-old son of an unarmed Mumbai hospital guard who was shot by Kasab during the attack. "My father was the only breadwinner in the family. Kasab has ruined us and snatched our food away. Why should our country keep him alive in jail and feed him endlessly through various appeals?"

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