MUMBAI: The trial of the only surviving gunman in the bloody Mumbai siege began Friday with the prosecutor calling the attacks ‘a criminal conspiracy hatched in Pakistan to attack India,’ AP reported.
Special public prosecutor Ujjwal Nikam said at least one Pakistani military officer was involved in the attack and its sophistication suggested the involvement of Pakistan’s powerful intelligence agency.
Mohammed Ajmal Kasab, a Pakistani, is charged with 12 criminal counts, including murder and waging war against India. Prosecutors say Kasab and nine other gunmen who were killed during the siege are responsible for the deaths of 166 people and injuring 304 more.
‘There was a criminal conspiracy hatched in Pakistan to attack India,’ Nikam said, with the ‘ultimate target of capturing Jammu and Kashmir, which is part and parcel of India.’
The Himalayan region of Kashmir, which is divided between India and Pakistani but claimed by both, has long been at the center of the bitterness between the two South Asian rivals.
The prosecutor vowed to get to ‘the root of terror’ and said the identity of all those involved would be revealed through the ongoing investigation.
Nikam alleged the November attacks were masterminded by the Muslim militant group Lashkar-i-Taiba with the help of at least one Pakistani military officer. He said the plot was made possible by a ‘terrorist culture’ that had taken root in Pakistan.
Lashkar-i-Taiba is widely believed to have been created by Pakistani intelligence agencies in the 1980s to fight Indian rule in Kashmir.
Pakistani officials have acknowledged that the November attacks were partly plotted on their soil and announced criminal proceedings against eight suspects. They have also acknowledged that Kasab is Pakistani but have repeatedly denied their intelligence agencies were involved in the attack.
The prosecution began after the judge dismissed a motion from Kasab’s defense lawyer, Abbas Kazmi, to move the trial to a juvenile court. Kazmi, who had been appointed Kasab’s attorney just the day before, said his client was 16 years old — and legally a minor — at the time of the attack.
Kasab told Indian investigators he was born in September 1987, which would have made him 21 when the siege took place.
Kasab’s two co-defendants, Faheem Ansari and Sabauddin Ahmed, are Indian nationals charged with helping plot the attacks. Their lawyer maintains that they are innocent.
Meanwhile, Kasab’s defence counsel said his client wished to retract his confession, claiming it was obtained under duress.
‘On his instruction, a retraction application has been filed, retracting the so-called alleged confession,’ said Abbas Kazmi.
‘He’s going to plead not guilty,’ he added.
The lawyer told reporters that Kasab claimed the confession, made to a local magistrate while he was in police custody, was ‘extracted out of coercion and force and it was not a voluntary confession.’ He quoted Kasab as claiming he had been ‘physically tortured.’
Court officials say they hope the case will be finished in six months to a year — which would be extremely fast by the standards of major Indian trials.
The trial for India’s deadliest terror attack, the 1993 Mumbai bombings that killed 257 people, took 14 years to complete.