MUMBAI (Reuters) - A special court sentenced Pakistani citizen Mohammad Ajmal Kasab to death on Thursday over a three-day rampage through Mumbai in 2008 that killed 166 people and strained ties between India and Pakistan.
Kasab, 22, was the only one captured alive of 10 gunmen who carried out the coordinated attacks on key landmarks in Mumbai, including two luxury hotels, the main train station and a Jewish centre.
Kasab’s sentencing came two days after a Pakistani-American man was charged over a failed attempt to detonate a car bomb in New York’s crowded Times Square on Saturday.
The Mumbai attacks, blamed on the Pakistan-based militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), brought to a halt peace talks between India and Pakistan. LeT has been fighting Indian forces in disputed Kashmir since the early 1990s.
“He shall be hanged by the neck till he is dead,” Judge M.L. Tahilyani said as Kasab sat with his head bowed, occasionally wiping his eyes with the back of his hand and then covering his ears with his fingers.
Kasab earlier shook his head when offered a chance to speak.
In India, the death penalty is handed down for the “rarest of rare” crimes and is carried out by hanging. The sentence must be confirmed by a higher court and can be appealed. The last execution was in 2004.
Kasab was found guilty on Monday on more than 80 charges, including murder and waging war on India.
India paused talks with Islamabad after the attacks, saying Pakistan must first act against groups operating from its soil, including LeT, of which Kasab was convicted of being a member.
On Tuesday, a Pakistani-American who U.S. authorities say trained with al Qaeda in Pakistan, was charged over the failed Times Square bombing attempt.
“The nature of the development with reference to the particular incident in New York is only the vindication of what India has been conveying to the United States government that the epicentre of all terrorist activities comes from only one country,” Foreign Minister S.M. Krishna told parliament.
The sentencing came a week after the prime ministers of India and Pakistan held talks in Bhutan and asked officials to take steps to normalise relations, reviving a five-year-old process that had been stalled by the Mumbai attacks.
“We have a far bigger agenda on the table,” Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said on Indian television on Wednesday. “We will have to respect each others’ judicial processes,” he said before the sentencing.
Pakistan denies involvement in the Mumbai attacks and says it is prosecuting seven suspected militants for their roles.
“Certainly we will have to keep engaging Pakistan in the light of the death sentence,” Krishna told reporters. “A number of others who are involved as co-conspirators will also have to be extradited,” he said.
Outside the special court, housed in the maximum-security prison where Kasab is held, government prosecutor Ujjwal Nikam flashed victory signs and held up a file with a cover showing pictures of Kasab and a noose over the words “DEATH PENALTY”.
The attacks shocked India, with television channels beaming live coverage of the siege. Relatives of victims have demanded Kasab be executed immediately to discourage similar attacks.
“I won’t say relieved, but at least satisfaction that justice has been done,” a tearful Sevanti Parekh, whose son and daughter-in-law died in the attacks, told CNN-IBN television.
Kasab’s lawyer, K.P. Pawar, said he had not had a chance to discuss with his client their next course of action.
Kasab was filmed walking through Mumbai’s main train station carrying an AK-47 rifle and a knapsack on his back. Nearly 60 people were gunned down in the crowded station.
Twenty Pakistani co-conspirators, including LeT founder Hafiz Mohammad Saeed and commander Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, were also found guilty. A spokesman for LeT denied the leader or the organisation was involved.
Islamist groups like LeT, which has been linked to al Qaeda, see India and the United States as foes against whom they must wage holy war. They also support independence for Kashmir, the Himalayan region claimed in full but controlled in part by both India and Pakistan.
The two countries have fought three wars since independence from Britain in 1947, two over Kashmir.
(Additional reporting by Bappa Majumdar in NEW DELHI; Writing by C.J. Kuncheria; Editing by Paul de Bendern and Paul Tait)