The lone terrorist captured in the Mumbai terror strike, Mohammed Ajmal Amir Kasab, on Wednesday demanded a Pakistani lawyer to defend him as the trial started in Mumbai with his assigned counsel Anjali Waghmare being removed on grounds of 'professional misconduct'.
Kasab, the prime accused in the Nov 26-29 Mumbai terror attack in which over 170 people were killed, was present in person for the first time in the Special Court in the Arthur Road Central Jail, where the 26/11 trial opened for the first time under a tight security blanket.
Rejecting his plea, the Special Court informed him that a Pakistani lawyer could not defend him in this country. However, if the Pakistani government or his family members wished to engage an Indian lawyer, they were free to do so, Special Judge ML Tahilyani said.
The Pakistani national, sporting a short beard and dressed in a grey shirt and jeans, sat through the three-hour proceedings along with his two co-accused, Lashkar-e-Taiba activists Fahim Ansari and Sabahuddin Mohammed.
The entire court lapsed into silence as Kasab stepped in from a special corridor connecting his cell to the courtroom.
He did not have a microphone and spoke in short sentences in Urdu, all of which was heard in complete silence.
"Since there is no response to my earlier application (for a Pakistani lawyer), please send a request again," he said.
Special Public Prosecutor Ujjwal Nikam informed the court that a similar request from Kasab had earlier been forwarded to the Pakistan government, which did not respond.
"We shall again forward his request through diplomatic channels to Pakistan and await further developments," Nikam told reporters.
Keeping in view the sensitive nature of the trial, the Special Court was likely to appoint a senior lawyer in consultation with the Sessions Court Bar Council (SCBC).
The issue of a lawyer for Kasab has been a tricky one. After several delays, the court appointed government lawyer Waghmare but revoked it Wednesday on grounds of "professional misconduct" and "conflict of interests".
SCBC panel member, advocate Abbas Kazmi, said lawyers were reluctant to come forward and defend the terrorist in view of the strong public sentiments and cited the instance of the attack on Waghmare's home after her appointment last month.
Waghmare was removed for agreeing to represent one of the victims of the Mumbai terror attacks, who is also now a listed witness scheduled to depose in the matter.
The day's proceedings started amidst unprecedented security arrangements, as a huge media contingent, comprising over 300 national and international reporters and television crews, descended on the Arthur Road Central Jail.
Nearly 500 policemen from the Mumbai Police, the State Reserve Police Force (SRPF), along with the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) force and the jail's own internal security put in place a tight security cover inside and outside the jail premises.
They were aided by electronic surveillance with CCTVs installed outside the jail gates, the approach roads, inside the jail leading to the courtroom and other strategic locations.
A police official said that over 300 special security passes had been issued till Tuesday evening to enable the national and international media and crews to cover the trial in which the prime accuse is Mohammed Ajmal Amir alias Kasab.
While the trial has kicked off, day-to-day hearings are yet to begin with pre-trial formalities being completed.