An Indian judge handed the death sentence today to the lone surviving gunman from the 2008 Mumbai attacks, Pakistani national Mohammed Ajmal Amir Kasab. Kasab, 22, described by the prosecution as a "killing machine" and "cruelty incarnate", was found guilty at a special prison court in the city on Monday after a year-long trial. Public prosecutor Ujjwal Nikam called for the death penalty because of the premeditated nature of the attacks, which saw 10 Islamist gunmen attack hotels, a railway station, a restaurant and a Jewish centre during a 60-hour siege.
Kasab was the only gunman caught alive during the assault in November 2008 and the two most serious crimes he was convicted of ? murder and waging war against India ? are punishable by hanging. Observers said that the death penalty, the expected outcome of the judge's deliberations, is likely to trigger a lengthy, possibly open-ended, appeal through the Indian courts.
The government officially supports capital punishment for what the Supreme Court in New Delhi has called the "rarest of rare" cases but no execution has been carried out since 2004 and only two since 1998. Many pleas for clemency to the president are still pending, including ones from the killers of former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, who was assassinated in 1991, and a Kashmiri separatist who attacked India's parliament in 2001.
Families of some of the victims have long called for Kasab's execution, and the clamour for him to be put to death grew louder after Monday's widely expected guilty verdict. The prosecution had a wealth of evidence against Kasab, including DNA and fingerprints, security camera footage, photographs and hundreds of witnesses. An image of him carrying a powerful AK-47 assault rifle and backpack at Mumbai's main railway station, where he and an accomplice killed 52 people, has become a defining image of the atrocity.
Defence lawyer K P Pawar has argued against capital punishment, suggesting that his client was brainwashed into committing the offences while under the influence of Pakistan-based extremists. There is also a feeling in India that the alleged masterminds of the attacks in Pakistan must be convicted for true justice to be served. The Indian government said the verdict on Kasab sent a strong message to Pakistan not to "export terror" beyond its borders.
New Delhi, which suspended peace talks with Islamabad after the attacks, now wants Pakistan to convict the alleged masterminds, namely the founder of the Lashkar-i-Taiba (LiT) militant group, Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi, and key operative Zarar Shah. Hafiz Saeed, head of the Jamaat-ud-Dawa charity which is seen as a front for the LiT, is the third person blamed by India. The Mumbai court ruled that all three were part of the conspiracy. Lakhvi and Shah are currently on trial in Pakistan.
"Kasab was a mere cog in the machine," wrote commentator Manoj Joshi in the Mail Today tabloid. "The real machine, Lashkar-i-Taiba, continues to flourish in Pakistan, brainwashing more young men, and arming and equipping them to wreak more mayhem." Other commentators doubt that Kasab's case will have any effect on either curbing extremism or improving relations between the two neighbours, who have fought three wars since independence from Britain in 1947.
The executive director of the Institute of Conflict Management in New Delhi, Ajai Sahni, said the Kasab case was "completely irrelevant" to the wider context. "If he's convicted and hanged, it's still going to be years given our legal system," the specialist on extremist groups said. "The fundamentals of the conflict between India and Pakistan and the trajectory of terrorism are not going to be radically affected by this (case)."