NEW DELHI — India on Saturday hanged a Kashmiri man convicted of facilitating an armed attack on the nation’s parliament in 2001, a controversial decision by the beleaguered national government in what is possibly a difficult election year.
Afzal Guru, who was sentenced to death by the Supreme Court in 2005, was hanged at 8 a.m. Saturday in New Delhi’s high-security Tihar jail, according to India’s home minister Sushil Kumar Shinde.
The Indian parliament building was attacked by five gunmen armed with explosives in December 2001. Nine people and all of the gunmen were killed during the attack, which took place as several lawmakers were inside the parliament. Police arrested Guru a few days later based on phone intercepts and charged him with harboring and helping the gunmen. Guru had denied the charges in court, even though he confessed his role in detailed television interviews in 2002 in the presence of the police.
In a similarly secret operation Nov. 21, India hanged another high-profile terrorist, Ajmal Kasab, convicted in the 2008 Mumbai attacks.
Guru’s execution has been a hot-button issue for several years here and critics have blamed the government for lacking the will to hang him quickly. His execution was delayed because his wife had filed a mercy petition in 2006.
Indian President Pranab Mukherjee rejected the mercy petition a few days ago, and Guru was shifted to solitary confinement in prison to prepare for execution, said an official. The executions of Guru and Kasab both came after Mukherjee, a veteran political strategist from the ruling Congress party, took over as president last year.
“The new president of India sent me some cases for reconsideration, I examined in detail,” Shinde told reporters. “On the 4th I signed it and sent it for the further execution to the department. The procedure was followed, and the date was confirmed by the judicial officer on the 8th.”
R.K. Singh, the home secretary, said that it was “the rule of law and justice taking its course.”
An official in the government said that Guru’s body will not be sent to his home in Kashmir. The Press Trust of India news service reported that Guru’s body had been buried at the Tihar jail.
Guru’s elder brother, Ejaz Ahmad Guru, 45, said the government provided no notice or advance warning that it was going to execute his brother.
“We were not informed about the hanging by the government, we had to learn from the media,” he said, speaking from Sopore town in Kashmir by telephone. A government official said Guru’s family had been informed of the pending execution by a government-operated courier service.
Guru, his brother said, was 42 and is survived by a wife and a 12-year old son. The family had last met with Guru in prison last August. “We want his dead body back, it is our right. But they are not sending him back to his birthplace to be buried. Is this humanity?,” he asked. “The streets have been completely shut down. Who do we complain to in the government?”
Fearing angry protests, the government imposed a strict curfew in many parts of the Himalayan province of Kashmir where several armed groups have been fighting for independence for the past two decades.
Many groups in Kashmir, including some of India’s leading human rights activists, have said that Guru did not get a fair trial and argued for clemency. Lawmakers in Kashmir had even introduced a proposal in the state assembly against the execution. The proposal failed to pass.
Omar Abdullah, the chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir province, told reporters that the police and paramilitary forces have been deployed across the Himalayan valley to deter violence.
“I understand there is certain degree of angst as a result of this execution. I also understand there are amongst us those who would like to exploit this situation for their personal and political advantage,” Abdullah said. “I appeal to the people of Kashmir to please allow us to get through this period, to please not let the situation go out of hand and to not resort to any sort of violent protest which would only make matters worse.”
The last time a Kashmiri resident was executed for terrorism was in 1984. Security analyst B. Raman wrote in a blog post following Guru’s execution Saturday that today, unlike in 1984, terror groups are “well primed against India and are in a position to mount quick retaliatory attacks not only in (Kashmir) but also in the rest of India”.
Sunita Bisht, the wife of a TV cameraman who was shot and later died from wounds suffered outside the parliament building, said she was “very happy Afzal Guru has been finally hanged to death, I am at peace after so many years. My two children were orphaned and our family has struggled since my husband’s death.”
Hindu nationalist politicians had repeatedly taunted the government for delaying the hanging. Several petition campaigns have been circulated in the past few years, some calling for support of clemency for Guru and others demanding his immediate execution.
Some political analysts said that the ruling coalition headed by the Congress party is finally springing to life, possibly anticipating a pitched election campaign in the coming months mounted by the controversial Hindu nationalist politician Narendra Modi.
“This action is delayed but undoubtedly a welcome action,” said Rajiv Pratap Rudy, the spokesman for the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party. “People of this country had been waiting for it for a long time. So that the world could see that India was committed in its fight against terror.”
Meenakshi Ganguly, south Asia director of Human Rights Watch, which opposes the death penalty as being inhumane, said that Guru’s hanging, coming so soon after Kasab’s execution in November, “shows a very worrying trend by the Indian government”.