Indian officials sentenced to death Thursday the only surviving gunman from the bloody Mumbai attacks, punishing the 22-year-old Pakistani man who became the face of the assault after being caught on video storming a train station armed with an assault rifle.
Mohammed Ajmal Amir Kasab, who covered his face with his hands and wept when the sentence was announced, was found guilty of murder and waging war against India for his role in the three-day November 2008 siege that claimed 166 lives in the nation’s financial capital.
A photograph of Kasab wielding an assault rifle at the train station became the iconic image of the attacks. People outside the station set off firecrackers in celebration Thursday after the sentence was announced.
Judge M.L. Tahaliyani said Kasab “shall be hanged by the neck until he is dead.” In rejecting Kasab’s contention that he had committed the crime under duress and pressure from militants, the judge added, “Such a person can’t be given an opportunity to reform himself.”
The death sentence must be reviewed by the High Court. Kasab can also appeal the decision and apply for clemency to the state and central governments, though his lawyer said that no decision had been made yet on the next step.
Such motions often keep the convicted on death row for years, even decades, in India, which has not executed anyone since 2004. The special prosecutor in the trial, Ujjwal Nikam, said he expects it will take at least a year for the sentence to be carried out.
The siege — when 10 young men armed with assault rifles attacked two luxury hotels, a Jewish center and a busy train station — reverberated across India. Millions watched on television as the rampage turned into a siege on the hotels, while guests and staff hid.
Kasab was accused of the most lethal episode of the attacks — when he and an accomplice killed and wounded dozens of people at one of Mumbai’s busiest train stations.
“The judge has come to the most appropriate conclusion, and it could send a positive message to anyone who would like to wage a war against India,” India’s External Affairs Minister S. M. Krishna told reporters in New Delhi.
India blames a Pakistan-based militant group, Lashkar-e-Taiba, for masterminding the attack, which has deepened the rift between the rivals. There has been no public support and sympathy for Kasab in Pakistan during his trial, and official reaction to his sentencing was muted.
“We would appreciate that our legal experts need to go through the detailed judgment,” Pakistani Foreign Office spokesman Abdul Basit said.
“At this stage, what I can tell you is that Pakistan has strongly condemned the horrific Mumbai attack. It is important that culprits are brought to justice.”
Tahaliyani said the evidence implicated at least 20 people — many of them members of Lashkar living in Pakistan — in a conspiracy to wage war against India.
Among them were top Lashkar leader Hafiz Muhammad Saeed — whom Pakistan has yet to prosecute, much to India’s ire — and Zaki-ur-Rahman Lakhvi and Zarrar Shah, two other Lashkar operatives who are among seven men now on trial at a special court in Pakistan for their alleged role in the Mumbai attack.
Krishna said India would keep pressing for the extradition of all those involved in the attacks.