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Thursday, May 6, 2010

Court gives death penalty to Mumbai siege gunman

MUMBAI, India – A court in India on Thursday handed a death sentence to the only surviving Pakistani gunman in the bloody 2008 Mumbai attacks.

Judge M.L. Tahaliyani's sentence came three days after Mohammed Ajmal Kasab was found guilty of murder and waging war against India for his role in the attacks that claimed 166 lives in the nation's financial capital.

A death sentence must be reviewed by the High Court. Kasab can also appeal the decision and apply for clemency to the state and central governments.

The November 2008 siege — when ten young men armed with assault rifles began their attacks on two luxury hotels, a Jewish center and a busy train station — reverberated across India. Millions watched on television as the violence stretched over three days.

Kasab was accused of the most lethal episode of the siege — when he and an accomplice killed and wounded dozens of people at one of Mumbai's busiest train stations.

Photographs of that brutal assault became iconic images of the siege.

India blames a Pakistan-based militant group, Lashkar-e-Taiba, for masterminding the attack.

The judge rejected arguments by Kasab's attorney, K.P. Pawar, that he had committed the crime under duress and pressure from Lashkar.

The judge said Kasab joined the militant group on his own and trained to be a fighter.

"Such a person can't be given an opportunity to reform himself," the judge said.

Kasab covered his face with hands and wept when the sentence was announced.

Death sentences in India are carried out by hanging.

The special prosecutor in the trial, Ujjwal Nikam, said in an interview Wednesday that he expected it would take at least a year for Kasab to be executed.

Kasab's lawyer said that no decision had been made yet on whether to appeal the sentence.

"We're all very satisfied," said Deven Bharti, a senior police official involved with the investigation into the attacks. "I hope it will be a deterrent for Pakistan so they will stop exporting terrorists across the border."

Though India voted against a moratorium on capital punishment at the United Nations in 2007 and 2008, in practice, the country has been veering away from applying the death penalty.

Only one person has been executed since 1998 — a man convicted of raping and murdering a 14-year-old girl, who was sent to the gallows in August 2004.

Many convicts simply wait, as bureaucratic disregard — which some say is purposeful neglect by politicians leery of capital punishment — effectively transmutes a death sentence into life in prison. People responsible for the 1991 assassination of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and a 2001 attack on India's Parliament have yet to be executed.

Officials from the Home Ministry said Wednesday that they didn't have information available on the number of Indians currently awaiting execution.


Associated Press reporter Rajesh Shah in Mumbai contributed to this report

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