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Kasab: the Mumbai gunman awaiting hanging

August 29, 2012

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Mohammad Ajmal Amir Kasab. — File Photo by AP

MUMBAI: Mohammed Ajmal Amir Kasab, labelled the “Butcher of Mumbai”, is a school drop-out waiting to be hanged in India for his role in the 2008 attacks on the city.

The 24-year-old Pakistani national was one of two heavily armed gunmen who opened fire and threw hand grenades at Mumbai's main railway station on November 26, 2008, killing 52 people and wounding more than 100.

He was allegedly born in the dusty village of Faridkot in a remote and impoverished region of Punjab in Pakistan's farming belt, home to 10,000 people, most of them farmers and labourers and few of them literate.

His father, Mohammed Amir Iman, ran a food stall in the village.

Kasab dropped out of school in 2000 and worked as a labourer in the eastern city of Lahore until 2005, according to his initial confession to police, which was widely published in India.

He first pleaded not guilty but later made a confession, admitting being one of the 10 gunmen trained, equipped and financed by the banned Lashkar-i-Taiba (LeT).

Kasab reportedly said he joined LeT to get weapons training after deciding to embark on a life of crime but there have also been claims that his father duped him into doing it for money.

The Supreme Court in New Delhi on Wednesday upheld his death sentence, leaving him with a final appeal to the president to save him from death by hanging.

“He fits the profile if you look at the terrorists recruited by Lashkar-i-Taiba,” Wilson John, senior fellow at New Delhi's Observer Research Foundation and a specialist in extremist groups, told AFP.

“They come from lower-middle class or poor families. They're not entirely uneducated, just a little bit educated; they're unemployed and looking for a job. They're not religiously inclined but they can be brainwashed.

“He was a prime target.” When his trial began in 2009, Kasab at first appeared relaxed, dressed in either a T-shirt and tracksuit bottoms or a traditional kurta-pyjama, joking or smiling at lawyers and reporters.

But he seemed increasingly sullen, withdrawn and even asleep as the trial progressed, prompting fears for his mental state. He showed no emotion in the dock when he was pronounced guilty of murder and waging war on India.

Since his conviction, he has been held in a high-security jail in Mumbai.

When his Supreme Court appeal began in January, he issued a statement saying he had been denied a fair trial.

Prosecutor Ujjwal Nikam characterised Kasab as a shrewd and calculating operative, describing him as a “human shape” with no feelings or emotion.

While pushing for the death penalty, Nikam dwelt on the apparent smile Kasab wore while firing on travellers in the train station and his reported regret at arriving late at the target because he had missed the commuter rush.

His defence lawyer, K. P. Pawar, sought to persuade the court that Kasab was a susceptible young man who had been brainwashed.

“He was mentally defective (at the time of the attacks) and the effect impaired his ability to appreciate the impact of his conduct,” Pawar told the court during discussions about his sentence.

“He's a human being of flesh and blood, that should not be forgotten,” he added.