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Close to the gallows

Print edition : Sep 21, 2012 T+T-
GOPAL SUBRAMANIUM (LEFT), representing the Maharashtra government, and Raju Ramachandran, whom the Supreme Court appointed to appear for Kasab, after the court upheld Kasab's death sentence on August 29.-R.V.MOORTHY

GOPAL SUBRAMANIUM (LEFT), representing the Maharashtra government, and Raju Ramachandran, whom the Supreme Court appointed to appear for Kasab, after the court upheld Kasab's death sentence on August 29.-R.V.MOORTHY

The Supreme Court confirms the death sentence awarded to Mohammad Ajmal Kasab, the only 26/11 attacker caught alive.

THAT the death sentence of Mohammed Ajmal Kasab, the only Pakistani terrorist caught alive in the 26/11 attacks on Mumbai, would be confirmed by the Supreme Court was never in doubt. On August 29, the court upheld the death sentence awarded to him by the Bombay High Court.

In a unanimous judgment, the Supreme Court Bench said: In terms of loss of life and property and more importantly in its traumatising effect, this case stands alone, or it is at least the very rarest of rare to come before this court since the birth of the republic. Therefore, it should attract the rarest of rare punishments. The Bench went through reams of data and the voluminous evidence provided by investigating agencies before making the decision.

In a meticulously planned terror attack on November 26, 2008, Kasab and nine others left Pakistan and entered Mumbai via sea. The group split into pairs and stormed two luxury hotels, the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST) railway station, a Jewish religious centre, and Leopold Caf in south Mumbai. In their indiscriminate firing, 173 people were killed and 234 injured. It took Indian security forces three days to secure these buildings, which the terrorists had captured.

The D.B. Marg police intercepted the police vehicle Kasab and partner Ismail Khan had hijacked at Girgaum Chowpatty. Ismail was killed and Kasab injured in an exchange of fire. Interestingly, Kasab was the only terrorist to be captured on camera by a news photographer who was at the CST station during the killing spree. That gun-wielding picture of Kasab was beamed across the world and became the face of the Mumbai terror attacks. The images of Kasab caught on the closed circuit television (CCTV) camera at the station formed hard evidence of his ruthless act and eventually led to his conviction, said the special trial court.

The apex court noted: This is a case of terrorist attack from across the border, it has a magnitude of unprecedented enormity on all scales. The conspiracy was as deep and large as it was vicious. Preparation and training was as thorough as the execution was ruthless. The court refused to show mercy on any counts except to state: The only mitigating factor is the appellants young age, but that is completely offset by the absence of any remorse on his part, or possibility of any reformation. The court rejected his claim that he was not given a fair trial and that his confessions were not voluntary.

Regarding capital punishment, the Supreme Court said: As long as the death penalty remains on the statute book as punishment for certain offences, including waging war and murder, it logically follows that there must be some cases, however so rare or one in a million, that would call for inflicting that penalty.

Kasabs role

Interestingly, Kasab was not just one of ten terrorists. He played a crucial role in the entire attack and his capture, therefore, was significant. It was Kasab who beheaded the navigator of the fishing trawler that the terrorists hijacked and used to enter Indian waters. At the CST, he and Ismail killed 52 people the highest toll among the five targets. The duo was responsible for attacking Anti-Terrorist Squad chief Hemant Karkares car and killing him and two senior police officers, Vijay Salaskar and Ashok Kamte, at the Cama and Albless Hospital near the CST. The terrorist duo then hijacked a police vehicle and drove through the Metro Cinema area, killing two more policemen on the way.

Ever since his capture, Kasab has been kept in a high-security, bomb-proof cell at the Arthur Road Jail in Mumbai. The special court, which tried him, was set up just below that cell so Kasab would not have to be ferried to a court. Crores of rupees have been spent on keeping him alive as the lone captured terrorist could provide investigating agencies clues to the 26/11 attack and, perhaps, lead to the groups and planners of such conspiracies.

Given that there have been so many terror attacks on Mumbai in the past decade, it was critical to get as much information out of him as possible, said Rakesh Maria, chief of the Special Investigation Team (SIT).

It was a unique investigation in which 657 witnesses were examined and investigating agencies from all over the world were involved, Maria said after the Supreme Court verdict. He told the media that the investigation was challenging as the conspiracy had been hatched on foreign soil and the terrorists were well-equipped and well-trained. Maria had earlier said: He (Kasab) is deeply indoctrinated. Although he doesnt know much about pure Islam, he is completely brainwashed into hating India.

The trial

The trial of Kasab began on April 15, 2009, after an 11,280-page charge sheet was filed by the Mumbai Police. The State and Central governments had said the trial would be held in a fast-track court and would, therefore, be short and quick.

Unfortunately, the trial had its ups and downs. To begin with, no lawyer was willing to represent Kasab. Eventually, the court appointed Abbas Kazmi. Kasab reportedly had asked the Pakistan High Commission to provide him legal aid, but since Pakistan had initially denied that the terrorists were from its soil and that the conspiracy had been hatched there, it could not come to his aid.

Kasab himself tried to obstruct the trial by claiming that he was a juvenile. But DNA samples proved he was 21 at the time of the attack, so the court rejected his plea. Midway through the trial, he retracted his confessional statement and said he was under duress while speaking and was not guilty.

The trial concluded on March 31, 2010, and on May 3, 2010, the special trial court pronounced its verdict Kasab was found guilty of murder, conspiracy, and of waging a war against India. On May 6, 2010, he was sentenced to death. On February 22, 2011, the Bombay High Court upheld the trial courts decision and delivered the death sentence, which he appealed against in the Supreme Court.

It has taken four years, but at least there is an end in sight, said a victims daughter. Those who lost their dear ones to Kasabs brutality have been unhappy about the delay in sending him to the gallows which, according to them, is the only punishment that should be given.

The arrest of Abu Jundal this year sealed Kasabs fate. It confirmed that the attack had been planned by a conspirator based abroad. Kasab and his group were only foot soldiers of militant jehadi organisations. Jundal, who is apparently a key manager of the 26/11 conspiracy, was picked up in Delhi after his deportation from Saudi Arabia. He was brought to Mumbai for questioning, and informed sources say he has admitted to teaching Hindi to the 10 terrorists. When Kasab and he met, Kasab recognised Jundal and reportedly confirmed that he had been trained by him.

Kasab now has two options before him: to file a review petition in the apex court or invoke a mercy jurisdiction. He can seek clemency first before the Maharashtra Governor and then before the President. But with several mercy petitions pending before the President, a mercy petition would take time unless a time-frame is set.

Kasab had reportedly told interrogators that he wanted to be famous and die a martyr. Perhaps he will be a martyr in his country, but in India, he has only attained notoriety.