The only surviving gunman from the 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai has been found guilty, starting a new round of legal arguments about whether the young Pakistani should be hanged.
Ajmal Kasab, 22, was shuttled into a high-security courtroom through a tunnel yesterday and stood quietly as a judge formally convicted him of 86 charges, including conspiracy, murder, and waging war against India.
The court will hear arguments today about Mr. Kasab's sentence, which could invoke the death penalty. Capital punishment is increasingly rare in India, but victims' families and many media commentators are calling for him to be hanged.
The days of mayhem that started on Nov. 26, 2008, often referred to with the shorthand "26/11," left 166 people dead and hundreds injured. The attacks remain a major point of friction between India and Pakistan.
One of the few people who spoke publicly against the death penalty was Rahul Bose, a well-known actor and activist, who complained that Mr. Kasab's trial has polarized opinion in his country.
"Either you want somebody to hang or you're unpatriotic," Mr. Bose said by telephone from Mumbai. "We've lost the grey; you're either black or white. If you say you're against capital punishment it must automatically mean you think that Kasab is innocent."
"We used to be a very nuanced culture, many hundreds of years ago. But we've lost this completely."
Nothing about the case of Mr. Kasab has inspired a nuanced view of his situation, however. In his initial confession - later withdrawn - the well-muscled terrorist claimed that he joined the Pakistani militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba because his family was poor and the extremists promised to pay his family. But this explanation did little to account for the bloodthirsty behaviour described by witnesses who saw Mr. Kasab hunting commuters at a train station with an assault rifle.
A bereaved mother said Mr. Kasab demanded a drink of water from her son, a janitor, who offered a glass with trembling hands. The gunman gulped the water and then shot the man. The mother called for the terrorist's execution - as did an 11-year-old girl, who hobbled into court on crutches and testified that she clearly remembered the man who shot her in the leg.
After hearing from more than 650 witnesses, the judge said he was convinced that Mr. Kasab was a member of the 10-man terrorist squad, and that the broader conspiracy involved at least 35 men - including Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, head of a charity in Pakistan that is suspected of involvement with extremists. India has repeatedly called for his arrest and extradition.
For its part, Pakistan has requested custody of Mr. Kasab, saying his testimony will be necessary for further investigation of the attack's ringleaders. Indian officials say they're unlikely to give up their most important prisoner in the case.
The issue was reportedly discussed between Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani on the sidelines of a summit in Bhutan last week. Pakistan is pushing for a resumption of the so-called composite dialogue, a wide-ranging series of peace talks that was interrupted by the Mumbai incident, while India says it cannot resume the process without visible action in Pakistan against the groups blamed for the attacks.
In the same courtroom yesterday, the judge also declared two Indians not guilty of involvement in the attacks. Fahim Ansari and Sabahuddin Ahmed were accused of giving a hand-drawn map to the terrorists, but their defence lawyers pointed out that the gunmen could have found better intelligence on the Internet.
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