Pakistani Gunman On Trial For Mumbai Attack

It's been more than six months since militants sailed from Pakistan, stormed into the Indian city of Mumbai and killed more than 160 people. Indian authorities have an important lead — a young man captured during the attacks who they say was the only gunman to survive. For weeks now, that man has been on trial.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And on this Monday morning, we're going to follow up on last year's attacks on the Indian city of Mumbai. You'll recall that six months ago, militants sailed from Pakistan, stormed into Mumbai, and went on a rampage that killed more than 160 people. The attacks caused a crisis in relations between two nuclear-armed nations. India froze peace talks with Pakistan and is still pressing Pakistan to track down the masterminds.

Now Indian authorities do have one important lead: a young man captured during the attacks who they say was the only gunman to survive. For weeks now, that man has been on trial, and the case has emotions running high. NPR's Philip Reeves reports.

(Soundbite of crowd chatter)

PHILIP REEVES: One of Asia's most notorious jails is preparing for another morning in the limelight. Armed policemen mill around outside its heavily fortified gates. The streets are choked with battered police vans and metal barricades. TV cameramen are beginning to arrive. There's a buzz of excitement even among the sidewalk stalls selling sweet tea and buttermilk to passersby. This is Arthur Road Jail, the oldest prison in Mumbai. It is, says journalist Nikhil Dixit a lockup with a history.

Mr. NIKHIL DIXIT (Journalist): All (unintelligible) from the underworld were, at some point of time, they were inmates of this jail. There are small-time robbers, (unintelligible) gangsters, everything - all types of criminals one can see.

REEVES: Yet no one's ever seen anything quite like what's now underway inside the jail. Deep within its walls, the trials taking place of a young Pakistani called Mohammed Ajmal Amir Kasab. The charges include waging war on India and multiple murders. Prosecutors say he's part of Lashkar-e-Taiba, a Pakistan-based militant group suspected of links with al-Qaida. So security's particularly tight.

Ms. TORAL VARIA (Reporter, Indian TV News Channel CNN-IBN): There's a huge - very huge study iron gate. Once it opens, it's like a majestic gate opening. You see these barracks.

REEVES: Toral Varia has covered every day of the trial for the Indian TV News channel CNN-IBN.

Ms. VARIA: Once you go straight past these barracks, now there's a bomb-proof, chemical-proof corridor. And this has especially been constructed for the security of Mohammed Ajmal Amir Kasab. There's an entire bomb-proof, chemical-proof alloy construction around the entire building of the jail where Kasab has been housed.

REEVES: Kasab's in consolatory confinement. That fortified corridor Varia mentions connects his cell to a special court set up inside the prison for this trial. There, a judge awaits him - there's no jury trial in India - and also dozens of extremely inquisitive Indian journalists. Varia says Kasab seems as interested in the journalists as they are in him.

Ms. VARIA: Throughout, whenever he's not in the court, he's in seclusion. Remember, in seclusion, he doesn't have anything to do, nothing to see, nothing - no one to talk to. All he has got is some few books and the Koran to read. So every time he comes out into public, he seems to be an excited youth.

(Soundbite of gunfire)

REEVES: This is what Kasab is accused of being part of.

(Soundbite of gunfire)

REEVES: A bloody rampage through Mumbai in late November by 10 militants who arrived by sea from Pakistan. By the time they'd finished, more than 160 people were dead, including six Americans.

Mr. BASHAWN METSUCONI(ph): I was quite rattled in the beginning. I didn't really know how to come to terms with having - being fortunate enough to have survived the attack while there was a few people on that same floor as me who I later found out had died.

REEVES: Bashawn Metsuconi was inside Mumbai's Taj Mahal Palace Hotel when some of the gunman stormed in, beginning a siege that lasted several days. Metsuconi had gone there for a wedding reception and ended up being trapped for hours. He's been struggling with his emotions ever since.

Mr. METSUCONI: The drama quickly just turned to, I guess, a mix of cynicism and anger over the way my country or the administration has actually dealt with the whole issue, be it the dilly-dallying and prevarication over assertive action against Pakistan or the whole jumbling of the trial of Kasab, who frankly should have been dispatched a long time ago.

REEVES: Prosecutors say they caught Kasab red-handed. They have pictures of him, including images broadcast around the world, of a fresh-faced youth brandishing a machine gun inside a railway station where dozens of people were mowed down. That's one reason Metsuconi thinks the trial's a waste of money and will only encourage others planning attacks on India.

Journalist Nikhil Dixit says many Indians feel the same way.

Mr. DIXIT: They are saying that - just hang him. That's about it. Don't waste taxpayers' money.

REEVES: The trial was delayed for weeks because no lawyer could be found to defend Kasab. Eventually, the court appointed a government attorney, Anjali Waghmare. She said she agreed because she thinks everyone has the right to defend themselves in court. It's a matter of principle. She was soon taken off the case over a technicality, but not before she'd had a nasty experience, as she explained, sitting in an entrance hall to one of Mumbai's courts.

Ms. ANJALI WAGHMARE (Attorney): They came in my house with an intent to attack me.

REEVES: By they, she means hard line Hindu activists who objected to Kasab having a trial, let alone a lawyer. She says they threw rocks at her home, terrifying her 10-year-old son.

Ms. WAGHMARE: My whole house was surrounded with all these people, protestors, and they were just using vulgar languages and all that.

REEVES: Abbas Kazmi is the lawyer now representing Kasab. He says he's also at risk of attack.

Mr. ABBAS KAZMI (Attorney for Kasab): That is why is our security is - that security has been provided to me 24 hours a day. People don't understand. And as I said, there has it has an international ramification, so, you know, I'm at risk from all the quarters.

REEVES: Kazmi says some of the people who don't understand include members of his private Mumbai social club. They're now trying to have him thrown out. Kazmi won't discuss details of the trial, but he says he's not happy about the conditions in Kasab's cell.

Mr. KAZMI: There is no fresh air or no ray of light passing to his cell. Of course, there may be electricity. The latrine is also inside his cell. The stink is going to his head.

REEVES: Kasab recently requested for some scents to mask that smell. India's media was outraged. It's following every step of the case.

Unidentified Woman: Special court judge M.L. Tahilyani, hearing the (unintelligible) case, has summoned the first witness in the terror attacks.

REEVES: The reporters in the court seemed fascinated just by the sight of this young South Asian who looks like a college student. Toral Varia of CNN-IBN is keeping a close eye on Kasab.

Ms. VARIA: I think he's a very moody guy. I've seen his moods change from excitement to funny to boredom to sleepy to interested to curious to angry and sulking.

REEVES: Kasab can expect many more days in court and many more mood swings. The case is expected to continue for some months. For his lawyer, Abbas Kazmi, that means continuing to have security guards accompanying him everywhere he goes.

Kazmi says it's worth it.

Mr. KAZMI: This case has international ramifications. It's being closely watched, and we want to prove to the world that, you know, we are a civilized nation and we give a fair trial even to a so-called terrorist.

REEVES: If found guilty, Kasab could be hanged.

Philip Reeves, NPR News.

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