This image of Ajmal Kasab at a Mumbai train station was among the evidence… (Sebastian D'Souza / Mumbai…)
Reporting from New Delhi — The lone surviving gunman in the 2008 attack on the Indian city of Mumbai that killed 166 people and terrified a nation was given the death penalty Thursday.
The sentencing of Ajmal Amir Kasab, a Pakistani, to hang for murder, conspiracy and waging war against the state followed his conviction Monday on all 86 counts against him.
Kasab was one of 10 men who were reportedly trained in Pakistan and traveled to Mumbai by water in late November 2008. They slipped ashore and over a three-day period attacked two luxury hotels, a train terminal, a hospital and a Jewish center. The siege was watched in real time by horrified TV viewers around the world.
At a special bomb-proof courtroom in Mumbai, the 22-year-old Kasab broke down, his head in his hand, as the sentence was being read but otherwise declined to speak.
"The death penalty must be imposed," Special Court Judge M.L. Tahiliyani said. "This man has lost all right for humanitarian consideration."
All death sentences in India face review by the Supreme Court. Kasab can also appeal the decision and apply for clemency to the state and central governments. But some legal experts said the sentence could be carried out relatively soon if Kasab decides, as he earlier indicated, that he would not fight execution.
Death penalty opponents argued that Kasab was on a mission to die anyway, and hanging him would not deter future attackers.
Businessman Bhisham Mansukhani, who was at a wedding at one of the hotels that night and became a hostage, said Kasab should be imprisoned for life without human contact or the smallest of comforts so he can reflect on the countless lives he's disturbed and destroyed.
"The stupidest thing we can do is kill him," Mansukhani said. "Kasab is actually happier to be done with it; he becomes a martyr back home. This is propaganda, the perfect PR package for people who recruit terrorists, ensuring there will be more murderous people like him."
But this view was the distinct minority in a nation angry at the bloodshed witnessed in Mumbai.
Assuming the sentence is carried out, Kasab would be hanged by a "rope one inch in diameter … 19 feet in length, well twisted, and fully stretched," according to an Indian prison manual. The rope should be able to handle 280 pounds with a 7-foot drop, adequately tested beforehand using bags of sand or clay.
Kasab faces execution in either of two prisons in Maharashtra state, of which Mumbai is the capital. As of now, Maharashtra lacks a hangman and has asked other states to lend them one. If none can be found, the state can also use "some trustworthy individual who is locally trained," the manual states. After hanging, the body "should remain suspended half an hour."
India doesn't release figures on the number of people on death row, but human rights watchdog Amnesty International estimated in 2008 that the figure was 400. India's last execution, which took place in 2004 in Kolkata, was of a man convicted of raping and murdering a 14-year-old. It was carried out by a then 83-year-old hangman who has since retired.
During Kasab's yearlong trial, rapid by Indian standards, the accused pleaded not guilty, subsequently confessed, then retracted his confession, saying he was framed and tortured.
India blames Lashkar-e-Taiba, a Pakistani militant group linked in the past to Islambad's powerful security agencies, for masterminding the attack. Kasab's lawyer had argued that the attack was carried out under duress from Lashkar.
"I am happy with this sentence, it is a victory for the nation," said Ujjwal Nikam, the flamboyant prosecutor in the case, waving a book titled "Death to Kasab" in front of television camera crews minutes after the sentencing. "Kasab's theatrics in the trial can put a circus monkey to shame."
The trial was fair and showed the world Kasab was guilty, Himanshu Roy, head of the Mumbai Crime Branch, told reporters in front of the courthouse. "More importantly, his handlers in Pakistan have also been convicted," Roy said. "This will serve as a deterrent to future attacks."
Anshul Rana in The Times' New Delhi Bureau contributed to this report.