From behind the bombproof barricades of Mumbai’s oldest jail, a special court here on Monday convicted Mohammed Ajmal Amir Kasab, the lone surviving Pakistani gunman from the 2008 terrorist attack on Mumbai, on 80 charges including murder, conspiracy, terrorism, and waging war against India.
The verdict ends a year of courtroom drama that had riveted the city, as one defense lawyer after another was replaced and Mr. Kasab at one point offered a detailed confession of the assault.
He said nothing on Monday when the judge pronounced his guilt but sat down again with his head in his hands.
The court will hear arguments for sentencing Tuesday, after which Kasab will be able to appeal. [Editor's note: The original version misstated the date the hearing would begin.]
The judge acquitted two Indians, Faheen Ansari and Sabauddin Sheikh, accused of providing logistical support to the operation.
During the three-day siege in November 2008, 10 men opened fire with AK-47s on public landmarks and five-star hotels in India's commercial capital, killing 166 people and injuring 234. India accused Pakistani militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba of planning and carrying out the attack.
Kasab was later hauled to Arthur Road Jail, which houses a special court that was fortified with steel and concrete barriers for his custody and trial. Local lawyers first refused to defend him, and two lawyers appointed by the court were later replaced. The Indo-Tibetan Border force was brought in to guard the premises, and a proposed monorail route was diverted from the area.
Kasab created a sensation last July when he confessed in court for 4.5 hours, offering a detailed narrative of his journey from a poor village in Faridkot, Pakistan, to a militant training camp and then to his rampage through Mumbai’s biggest train station. Kasab later recanted, saying his confession was coerced and that he had been framed.
Prosecutors described him as a “lying conniving depraved murderer,” while his lawyers painted him as an innocent village boy who was being made into a scapegoat.
Life imprisonment or death penalty?
The verdict against Kasab was widely expected here, given the amount of evidence in his case – including more than 650 witnesses ranging from FBI agents and forensic experts to a child shot in the leg while boarding a train and an elevator operator who was used as a shield by the terrorists.
What was less clear was whether Kasab, as a foreign national and nonstate actor, would be found guilty of the most serious charges of conspiracy and waging war against the country. The latter offense is punishable only by life imprisonment or the death penalty.
"This was not a simple crime," Judge M.L. Tahiliyani said Monday. "A warlike situation was created, government forces were resisted ... the resistance put forward by the accused indicated a determination to fight a war.”
The 2008 attacks raised tensions between India and Pakistan, which have only recently begun to ebb. Islamabad initially denied that the attackers were Pakistani. More recently, they asked that Kasab be extradited to be tried in his home country.
Judge Tahiliyani had harsh words for the prosecution in the acquittal of the other two men, who faced similar charges. Mr. Ahmed and Mr. Sheikh, who were already being held in another terrorism case in north India, were alleged to have aided the Mumbai attackers by providing them with maps of the city.
But the evidence was unsatisfactory and the witnesses “unreliable,” Judge Tahiliyani said. Given the lack of evidence and the harshness of the punishments for the offenses they were being charged with, he said, “they must get the benefit of the doubt.”
Reaction to the verdict among some Mumbai residents is strong. Balchandan Gupta, a shopkeeper located near the prison, says the government has wasted too much time and money trying Kasab. "A man who can do such things should not be alive," he says.