The Bombay High Court Monday upheld the death sentence awarded to Pakistani terrorist Ajmal Amir Kasab for his role in the 26/11 attack, closing another chapter in one of the most watched legal trials in the world and hailed as a triumph of the Indian legal system.
A division bench of Justice Ranjana Desai and Justice R.V. More delivered the verdict, holding him guilty on four counts. Kasab now has 30 days to appeal in the Supreme Court. Two Indian co-accused, alleged to be his accomplices, were let off by the court for lack of evidence.
“It is the rarest of rare cases. If he is not awarded the death penalty, then people might lose faith in the judicial process,” the bench grimly observed.
While Kasab, the sole surviving terrorist in the Nov 26-29, 2008 attack that claimed 166 lives and shocked the world, smiled and grinned when the judgement was read out, Special Public Prosecutor Ujjwal Nikam termed it “a triumph of justice”.
Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan welcomed the verdict but promptly announced that the state government would challenge before the Supreme Court the acquittal of Fahim Ansari and Sabahuddin Ahmed, both Indian nationals and co-accused in the 26/11 trial.
Hailing the verdict, Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram Monday said Kasab’s trial had raised the prestige of the Indian judiciary and welcomed the judgement upholding his death sentence.
“This is a tribute to our legal system. We should allow our legal system to deal with the case in the manner every other case is dealt with. The manner in which we dealt with the case has raised the prestige of the Indian legal system,” said Chidambaram, who had also complimented the prosecution on the judgement.
Kasab’s government-appointed lawyer Farhana Shah declared they would recommend to him to appeal against the death sentence before the apex court.
Appearing nonchalant and carefree, Kasab smiled and grinned as he appeared before the court via a video camera link from his cell in Arthur Road Central Jail for the hearing.
The high court upheld the four counts on which Kasab had been slapped with the death sentence by the trial court of Special Judge M.L. Tahaliyani in May 2010, including the killing of three top Mumbai police officers – Hemant Karkare, Vijay Salaskar and Ashok Kamte.
Bursting crackers and shouting slogans, Mumbaikars welcomed the verdict. Several people were seen sharing the news with each other while some shouted “Bharat mata ki jai”. They were unanimous in saying Kasab deserved death and the punishment should be expedited.
“My father’s soul will now rest in peace forever. I believe this is the apt punishment for Kasab and the likes of him,” said Deepak Bhonsale, son of assistant sub-inspector Balasaheb Bhonsale who was killed in the 26/11 attack. He wished it “would not take long” to put the verdict into action. “Hanging should be at the earliest,” he said.
A total of 166 people were killed in the mayhem let loose by Kasab and nine other gunmen during the 60-hour Mumbai terror attack. While Kasab was the sole gunman caught alive, his nine accomplices were killed in the fight with security forces.
“This is a victory of justice and defeat of drama by Pakistani terrorist Kasab,” a jubiliant Nikam said soon after the hearing.
Addressing mediapersons, he said, “the storm of terror unleashed by Kasab and his accomplices has finally ended” and there would be mourning and breastbeating in the camps of his handlers.
In his briefing – in which he called Kasab a “monster” and “demon” and also threw in a couplet to get a resounding round of applause – Nikam said the accused frequently attempted to misguide the prosecution and investigators, changed his statements at regular intervals and even pleaded for a life term at the fag end of the trial.
“However, nothing worked and we managed to foil all his designs,” Nikam said. He also said he would recommend appealing against the acquittal of the two Indian co-accused, Fahim Ansari and Sabahuddin Ahmed, by the court.
The Ansari-Ahmed duo were named co-accused for having conspired in the Mumbai attack conspiracy and providing logistics support prior to the terror strike.
“Both have been acquitted for lack of evidence against them. We consider it a victory of truth,” lawyers Ejaz Naqvi and R.V. Mokashe told mediapersons shortly after the verdict.