Mumbai Gunman Trial Goes On Despite Confession

The lone surviving Pakistani gunman from last year's Mumbai attacks surprised the Indian court where he is being tried when he confessed to the crime Monday. But the judge ruled today that the trial will continue despite the confession.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

We're going to follow up now on last year's on deadly terror attack in Mumbai, India, that left scores dead. A 21-year-old Pakistani gunman faces dozens of charges, some of which carry the death penalty. The gunman, Mohammed Ajmal Kasab, has already confessed to many of the crimes, but a judge ruled today that the trial will continue. NPR's Philip Reeves is following the case. He joins us now from India's capital, New Delhi.

Hi, Philip.

PHILIP REEVES: Hi.

INSKEEP: Remind us who this man is.

REEVES: He's the sole surviving gunman of the 10 who attacked Mumbai last November, killing more than 160 people. He's the young, fresh-faced individual whose picture's been published all over the world, showing him striding through Mumbai's main rail terminus with a machine gun. Now - more than 50 people died at that terminus at the start of the attacks.

He's been on trial for the last several months in a high security prison in Mumbai, where he's being held in solitary. And on Monday, all of a sudden, he changed his plea to guilty, surprising everyone, and provided a lengthy account of the attacks and how he got involved in them.

INSKEEP: Okay. So why is the judge deciding to continue the trial?

REEVES: Well, Kasab faces 86 charges, including murder and waging war on India - which both, by the way, carry the death penalty if proven. The judge felt his guilty plea was incomplete because it didn't address many of those charges.

INSKEEP: Any other reason that the judge would want the trial to go on here?

REEVES: Well, the prosecution argued two things, firstly, that Kasab's confession was a ploy to evade capital punishment. It claims that he minimalized his role in that confession by making out that he was a subordinate of the other gunman you saw in those pictures walking through the railway station, a man who's now dead. Kasab responded to that, by the way, by saying that he was willing to be hanged.

The prosecution also suspects him of pleading guilty to protect some alleged co-conspirators in Pakistan. Pre-trial proceedings in Pakistan have begun against five people there, including the alleged mastermind of the attacks, and prosecutors think that Kasab could be trying to stop further testimony coming out in his trial in Mumbai that might be sent to Pakistan and used in the prosecution of the five in Pakistan.

INSKEEP: And now you're beginning to hint at the larger implications of this case, because even as this trial is going on, India and Pakistan are trying to get some kind of a peace dialogue going after years of acrimony and past wars. How closely are Indians following this trial, then?

REEVES: They're following it very closely. And public opinion seems to divide into two camps, really. There are those who feel that the trial should never have been held, because the evidence against Kasab was overwhelming. There were the pictures. He was caught in the act, as it were. And now he's confessed. So they will feel, I suspect, even more outraged that money is being wasted on these proceedings.

But there are others who argue that everyone is entitled to a trial, no matter how overwhelming the evidence appears to be, and that this is showing India to be a democracy where the judiciary actually functions.

INSKEEP: Philip, when you talk to Indians on the street or when you read their commentaries in the media, do people in India feel that a sufficient number of conspirators here have either been killed or caught?

REEVES: There are a number of views about the circumstances that led to the Mumbai attacks, including one that suggests that there were more gunmen in the first place. And there's a very strong feeling that, in Pakistan, not enough has been done to track down those who are believed to have been behind the attack - Lashkar-e-Taiba, the militant group there, only five people in Pakistan so far are facing proceedings. The Indians are keen to get at least 20.

So, yeah, there's a feeling that more people than simply Kasab were involved in this, and that they so far have gone unpunished. And India, which was obviously outraged by the Mumbai attacks, feels strongly that they should be caught and prosecuted and punished.

INSKEEP: NPR's Philip Reeves is in India covering the trial of a terrorism suspect who has confessed but remains on trial. Philip, thanks very much.

REEVES: You're welcome.

INSKEEP: This is NPR News.

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