Mumbai accused laughs in court

SOMETIMES breaking into laughter, the man accused of being the lone surviving gunman in last year’s Mumbai attacks told an Indian court yesterday that he was from Pakistan and wanted legal assistance, officials said.

The trial of Mohammed Ajmal Kasab, whom police formally charged in February with “waging war” against India, began yesterday via a video link with his prison in Mumbai.

Gunmen killed 166 people in a three-day rampage in the city last November.

A bearded Kasab smiled and looked composed when the judge asked him whether he had received a copy of the charges and if he wanted an attorney, a government lawyer said.

“I don’t have a lawyer,” special public prosecutor Ujjwal Nikam quoted him as telling the judge.

“He was smiling throughout and said that he was from Faridkot in Pakistan,” Nikam said.

“He started laughing when the judge asked him if he understood everything in the charge sheet.”

The attacks on India’s financial hub sparked renewed tensions between nuclear-armed rivals India and Pakistan. New Delhi says state agencies in Pakistan were involved in the attacks, while Islamabad denies this and has asked for more evidence.

Police say Kasab was one of 10 gunmen who arrived in Mumbai by sea and rampaged through landmarks including five-star hotels, the main train station and a Jewish centre.

Police say Kasab, who faces a maximum sentence of death by hanging, was injured in a shootout. Pictures of the young man, wearing sneakers and carrying an automatic rifle and backpack, were published around the world after the attacks.

Kasab has since been held in jail, with Indian lawyers refusing to defend him.

“He had earlier requested legal assistance from Pakistan. We need some more time to appoint a lawyer to defend him,” Nikam told the judge.

The case will be heard again on March 30.

Authorities have cited security fears as behind the decision to not produce Kasab in person for the hearings until a bomb-proof concrete cage inside a Mumbai jail is ready.

Police and jail officers said Kasab, who yesterday was wearing a black T-shirt and blue jeans, has been co-operating. “He has confessed that he is from Pakistan and has also asked the court for legal assistance,” Rakesh Maria, the chief investigator in the case, said.

Two Indians — Fahim Ansari and Sabauddin Ahmed — accused of being members of the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba militant group and of scouting Mumbai landmarks before the attacks also appeared in court by video conference.

“They have both requested for lawyers and the court will take a decision,” Nikam added.

India has charged 38 people, including Kasab and the two Indians, in connection with the case. Most of the accused reside in Pakistan, the Indian government says.

The charge sheet, which runs to 11,000 pages, contains accounts of more than 2,200 witnesses as well as other evidence provided by the US Federal Bureau of Investigation, which helped Indian police.

Those charged as key planners of the attacks included Hafiz Mohammad Saeed, founder of the militant Islamist Lashkar-e-Taiba group India says was behind the attacks, and other senior Lashkar members Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi and Zarar Shah.

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