India hands Ajmal Kasab death sentence for Mumbai attacks

Mohammed Ajmal Amir Kasab may now appeal his death sentence, handed out Thursday for the 2008 Mumbai attacks. Most death-row convicts in India spend years in prison as they try to reverse their punishment.

Activists from National Institute of Jihad against Atrocities and Terrorism shout slogans as they celebrate the death sentence of Pakistani citizen Mohammad Ajmal Kasab in Mumbai Thursday. A Mumbai court sentenced Kasab to death for the 2008 Mumbai attacks that killed 166 people.

A special court judge here on Thursday sentenced Mohammed Ajmal Amir Kasab, the only gunman captured alive in the 2008 terrorist attack on Mumbai, to death by hanging for murder, conspiracy, terrorism, and waging war against India.

The sentence ends the quickest major terror trial in India, though the execution is unlikely to happen any time soon. After just over a year in court, and a 90-minute sentencing hearing, Mr. Kasab now has the right to appeal to the Mumbai high court and the Supreme Court, and, finally, petition the president of India for mercy.

A subdued Mr. Kasab, clad in a white kurta, appeared upset when the sentence was first announced and was sent out of the courtroom for a glass of water. After his return, he kept his head down and a hand over his mouth until the end of the proceedings.

The 2008 attack, which targeted a city train station, two five-star-hotels, and a Jewish center, killed 166 people and injured 234. Kasab was one of two gunmen from Pakistan-based militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba who opened fire on commuters at the historic Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus train station downtown.

Special court judge M.L. Tahiliyani described Kasab's crime as “brutality writ large.”

“Kasab has lost his right to get a humanitarian judgment,” he said later.

The trial will “send a message to those who want to wage war with India,” said Indian External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna, that they will be caught, and “tried and punished.”

In past decade, one execution

For those sentenced to death, however, their punishment is often delayed for years. India has about 308 people on death row, according to the latest data available from 2007. Most of them are waiting on appeals to higher courts, and 49 of them are in the last stage of appeal to the president.

The 49 include three Sri Lankan Tamils convicted in the 1991 assassination of former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and three others convicted in twin bomb blasts in Mumbai in 2003.

In the past decade India has executed only one person, a rapist and murderer, in 2004. No foreign national has been executed in India since its independence in 1947.

It is unclear whether Pakistan will continue to press for Kasab's extradition. Relations between the two countries worsened after the 2008 attack, when India accused Pakistan of not cracking down on Lashkar-e-Taiba, and have only recently begun to improve.

In Mumbai, the sentencing was widely anticipated. In interviews with the local media this week, residents and relatives of the victims had been mostly calling for a death sentence. Some, like Ransley Santhumayor, who was shot four times in the leg by a gunman at Leopold Cafe near the Taj Hotel, say the sentence brings no relief.

“Hanging this guy is not going to fix anything, it's one more person dying,” says Mr. Santhumayor. “At least if they rehabilitated him, some people may be inspired ... and there may be a few less Kasabs.”

‘No mitigating circumstance’

On Thursday, the judge accepted the prosecution's arguments that Kasab deserved to be hanged not just for the gravity of his crime but for the manner in which it was done. Kasab displayed extreme cruelty in his attack on the city’s biggest train station and appeared to enjoy killing commuters, the prosecution argued.

Judge Tahiliyani agreed. “No words can express the brutality” of this crime, the judge said, noting that Kasab fired indiscriminately at women and children and showed no remorse.

The judge also invoked the 1999 hijacking of an Indian Airlines flight, in which passengers were held hostage in Kandahar, Afghanistan, by terrorists until three top Islamic militants were released from Indian jails. One was Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, who went on to kidnap and kill American journalist Daniel Pearl.

“To my mind, keeping such persons alive leaves a big danger hanging over the government,” Mr. Tahiliyani said.

Kasab’s defense lawyer, appointed by the court, pleaded for the lesser sentence of life imprisonment. He said Kasab was young, had been acting under the influence of others, and could be reformed.

But the judge rejected these arguments, saying, “No mitigating circumstance could tilt the balance toward a lesser sentence.”

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