Almost one-and-a-half years after 10 Pakistani terrorists struck in the heart of India’s financial and entertainment capital, the country is waiting anxiously for the verdict Monday on Mohammed Ajmal Amir Kasab, the lone gunman captured alive in the bloody 60-hour siege whose live TV coverage had much of the world in thrall.
Mumbai Special Judge M.L. Tahilyani will deliver his judgement in the case that has seen as many as 653 witnesses being examined, a 675-page written submission being filed and several ups and downs – even as Kasab stayed in a high security cell.
On Monday, Kasab will be pronounced guilty or otherwise. Then the quantum of sentence will be argued before the court and the actual punishment will be awarded. The maximum punishment Kasab can get is death penalty.
The case may or may not go into the higher courts depending on the judgement.
The audacious attack Nov 26, 2008, targeted sites like the World Heritage building of the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, the Taj Mahal Palace and Tower Hotel, Hotel Oberoi-Trident, the Cama Hospital and the Chabad House, a Jewish prayer centre, and the favourite haunt of foreigners, Leopold CafÃ©.
The assault and the massacre that followed stunned the world and left 166 people dead and 244 injured.
Kasab’s trial, which started April 15, 2009, was completed March 31 this year, after nearly seven months of hearing, excluding breaks and vacations. The prosecution case was led by Special Public Prosecutor Ujjwal Nikam.
The witnesses included many survivors of the terror attacks, eyewitnesses, family members of the victims, police officials, several foreign nationals, Indian security officials and officials from the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).
The high-profile trial revolved around Kasab and two Indian co-accused, Fahim Ansari and Sabahuddin Ahmed.
Kasab has been charged under various sections of the Indian Penal Code, including waging war against the nation. Besides, he faces charges under the Explosives Act, the Arms Act, the Passport Act, the Prevention of Damage to Public Properties Act, the Customs Act, the Explosive Substances Act, the Bombay Police Act, the Foreigners Act and the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act.
The two Indian co-accused have been charged with conspiracy in the terror attacks – preparing maps of the targeted locations and handing these to Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) operatives.
The trio was lodged in Arthur Road Central Jail premises in south Mumbai where an air-conditioned Special Court was also set up for the trial, as part of security measures.
Kasab was lodged in a solitary ‘anda’ (oval) cell which was reinforced with layers of cement and steel capable of thwarting any major attacks or bomb blast.
Several roads outside the jail were made out of bounds for the general public or limited access was granted to vehicles after a thorough security check even before the trial as Kasab and his cohorts were lodged there.
A small section of the ongoing Mumbai metro railway project was also held up as it was close to the jail premises.
Kasab had come to Mumbai via the Arabian Sea route with nine other associates, all of whom were killed during the 60-hour operation by combined security forces. Their bodies were preserved in the morgue of Sir J.J. Hospital, barely a couple of kilometres away from Arthur Road Central Jail.
The Maharashtra government quietly disposed of the bodies in January this year. So far details of how and where the bodies were disposed of continue to elude the media.
Kasab seemed to enjoy the trial. At various times, he was seen laughing and giggling in court. He also complained of bad food, illness and attempts to poison him.
He made demands for things like perfumes, soaps, newspapers, permission to offer ‘namaz’ and new clothes – many of them rejected by the Special Court. All this prompted Nikam to call Kasab “an actor par excellence” several times.
The accused showed all his moods – sombre at times, jovial and cheerful often, crying at times, shocked and awed when shown some of the evidence or by the accounts of witnesses.
In July last year, Kasab grabbed headlines by ‘confessing’ to his crimes in the 26/11 attacks.
“Hang me, please,” Kasab pleaded two days after he made a dramatic confession and gave a chilling blow-by-blow account of his part in the attacks.
“I have committed the crimes on this earth and the people of the world should punish me. I don’t want god’s punishment. But, if somebody feels that I have confessed to escape the death penalty, the court can definitely hang me,” Kasab pleaded.
Later, he demanded a trial in an international court of justice, saying he had no faith in the Indian courts, while co-accused Ansari demanded video-recording of the entire trial.
The special judge promptly dismissed the pleas on grounds that they were “mischievous” and intended to “delay the proceedings”.
Besides Nikam, the defence lawyers, including Kasab’s lawyer K.P. Pawar, Ansari’s lawyer R.B. Mokashi and Ahmed’s lawyer Ejaz Naqvi, were involved when the final arguments were completed.
While one lawyer – S.G. Abbas Kazmi – was removed, another representing Fahim, lawyer Shahid Azmi, was killed during the trial in early February.