Mumbai gunman weeps as judge passes death sentence

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THE only surviving gunman from the bloody Mumbai attacks, in which 166 people died, has been sentenced to death by a court in India.

Mohammed Ajmal Kasab, from Pakistan, covered his face with his hands and wept when the sentence was announced.

He was found guilty on Monday of murder and waging war against India for his role in the three-day siege that rocked India's financial capital.

A photograph presented in court showed 22-year-old Kasab wielding an assault rifle during the onslaught.

Demonstrators set off firecrackers in celebration yesterday as the sentence was announced.

Judge ML Tahaliyani said Kasab "shall be hanged by the neck until he is dead".

But the death sentence must be reviewed by the High Court. Kasab can also appeal and apply for clemency to the state and central governments, though his lawyer said that no decision had been made yet on the next step.

Such motions often keep the convicted on death row for years, even decades, in India. The special prosecutor in the trial, Ujjwal Nikam, said he expected it would take at least a year for the sentence to be carried out.

The November 2008 siege – when ten young men armed with assault rifles attacked two luxury hotels, a Jewish centre and a busy train station – reverberated across India. Millions watched on TV as the rampage turned into a siege on the hotels, while guests and staff hid.

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

"The judge has come to the most appropriate conclusion and it could send a positive message to anyone who would like to wage a war against India," foreign minister SM Krishna said.

India blames a Pakistan-based militant group, Lashkar-e-Taiba, for masterminding the attack. There has been no signs of support for Kasab in Pakistan.

"We would appreciate our legal experts need to go through the detailed judgment. Pakistan has strongly condemned the horrific Mumbai attack. It is important culprits are brought to justice," Pakistani foreign office spokesman Abdul Basit said.

Judge Tahaliyani said the evidence implicated at least 20 people – many of them members of Lashkar living in Pakistan – in a conspiracy to wage war against India. Among them were Hafiz Muhammad Saeed – whom Pakistan has yet to prosecute – and Zaki-ur-Rahman Lakhvi and Zarrar Shah, two other Lashkar operatives who are among seven men now on trial at a special court in Pakistan for their alleged role in the attack.

Mr Krishna said India would keep pressing for the extradition of all those allegedly involved.

Kasab's conviction and death sentence were welcomed in Mumbai yesterday. "They should hang him near the Gateway of India," said Ramesh Pawar, a bank employee, referring to the waterfront tourist attraction.

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 it. Only one person has been executed since 1998 – a man convicted of raping and murdering a 14-year-old girl, who was hanged in 2004.

Many convicts simply wait, as bureaucratic disregard effectively transmutes a death sentence into life in prison.

Even those found responsible for the 1991 assassination of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and a 2001 attack on India's parliament are yet to be executed.