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India files murder charges against suspect in Mumbai attacks

Ajmal Amir Kasab, dubbed the 'smiling assassin,' could face the death penalty if convicted in the terrorism that killed more than 170.

February 26, 2009|Mark Magnier

NEW DELHI — Authorities on Wednesday filed charges of murder and "waging war" on India against who they say is the lone known surviving gunman in the Mumbai attacks, which killed more than 170 people in November.

If convicted, 21-year-old Ajmal Amir Kasab, dubbed the "smiling assassin" by Indian media for the facial expression seen on closed-circuit video during the attack on the Mumbai railway station, could face the death penalty. Nine other gunmen were killed in the 60-hour siege, which also targeted luxury hotels, a Jewish center and other sites.

Also implicated in the 11,000-page charge sheet were at least 35 suspects believed to be based in Pakistan who allegedly helped the attackers or had a role in planning the attacks. Separately, police accused two Indians of involvement.

Special public prosecutor Ujjwal Nikam told reporters that he hoped to wrap up the trial within six months, a rapid turnaround given that cases here can drag on for years. The massive document, part of which Nikam waved during the news conference, reportedly contains accounts by more than 2,000 witnesses as well as evidence provided by the FBI, which assisted Indian police.

The others charged include two suspected Pakistani soldiers and Hafiz Saeed, founder of the Islamist militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba, which India says was behind the attacks, as well as senior Lashkar members Zaki-ur Rehman Lakhvi, Zarar Shah and Abu Hamza.

The gravity of the charges against Kasab, who India says is from Gipal Pura in Pakistan, suggest that there is little chance he will be extradited to Pakistan, legal experts said, a step Islamabad has requested.

It is also unlikely that Pakistan will allow any of the dozens of other nationals charged Wednesday to face trial in India.

Islamabad has argued that India should instead hand over any evidence so suspects can be tried in Pakistan.

In addition to being charged with waging war against India, various others were accused Wednesday of murder, illegal entry into India, damaging public property and related offenses under the nation's arms and explosives act.

"The filing of charges is good as far as it goes, but Kasab is a foot soldier, and the colonels and generals are elsewhere," said G. Parthasarathy, a former Indian ambassador to Pakistan and now a security analyst with New Delhi's Center for Policy Research.

"There's something of a charade in Pakistan with regard to a trial," he added. "Unless you have independent observers and family members there, it's going to be a farce."

Pervez Hoodbhoy, a professor at Quaid-e-Azam University in Islamabad, said Pakistan's track record on trying militants isn't very good, nor is extradition likely given the political implications.

"The civilian government in Pakistan is weak, and if they did turn the suspects over, they would be attacked as selling out," he said.

Wednesday's report, which has a picture from the Mumbai attacks on its cover, includes accounts of guns and grenades used by the assailants that police said bear markings linked to Pakistani arms companies. Police also say they have a list of items left by the attackers that were manufactured in Pakistan, including detergent, toilet paper and toothpaste.

Kasab was captured after fleeing the railway station in a stolen car.

Pakistan announced last month that it had arrested 71 leaders of Lashkar-e-Taiba and detained 124 more in an effort to crack down on the group. But some Indian analysts said Pakistan had a long history of quietly letting suspects go a few weeks after their arrest.

Analysts said India had little leverage over Pakistan short of declaring war. That option would be extremely risky given that both nations have nuclear weapons.

"In the long term, I think the only way for this to be resolved is for India and Pakistan to work together to curb terrorism," Hoodbhoy said. "In the meantime, India's best option is to work through legal means and continue trying to build international pressure."

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mark.magnier@latimes.com

Pavitra Ramaswamy of The Times' New Delhi Bureau contributed to this report.

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