The village boy who became entangled with death

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WHEN police asked Mohammad Ajmal Kasab whether he felt pity for the people he gunned down during one of India’s bloodiest militant attacks, he said he had given it some thought beforehand.

He had been assured “you have to do these things, if you’re going to be a big man and get rewarded in heaven”, according to video footage of his interrogation.

Friends in his home village in Pakistan’s Punjab province remember a boisterous boy who loved films and karate. His aunt said she was proud of him.

But the image of Kasab, a baby-faced youth, filmed toting an AK-47 as he embarked on a killing spree at a crowded Mumbai railway station, became the face of the carnage.

At the start of his trial, Kasab smiled and occasionally broke into laughter. He initially confessed to the killings, only to later retract his statements and claim that he had travelled to Mumbai in the hope of landing a Bollywood film role.

Reports of his tantrums while in prison, including his chucking his prison food into the bin and demanding mutton biryani, sparked outrage in the Indian media.

Indian authorities say he was born in 1987, although his age became the subject of a dispute at the trial, as his lawyers argued he was not even 17 at the time of the attacks and should be tried in a juvenile court.

A classmate, not wanting to be identified, said Kasab had left the Punjab village of Faridkot in search of work when he was a poor teenage labourer. Another schoolmate remembers taking karate lessons with him.

“He comes from a very humble but noble, honest family. His father was a street vendor selling snacks on a cart”, recalled Haji Mohammad Aslam, Kasab’s neighbour who owns a shop where his family lived.

“Kasab did not send any money home and his family is still as poor as they were before he left. He was probably trapped by some religious group.”

“He was very active, always jumping around. He loved watching films. He would stay out until midnight watching television in shops and street restaurants.

“He grew up in our hands; he was a playful boy, and it’s not possible that he did all this.”