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Mumbai attacks suspect bemused by trial start

india Updated: Apr 15, 2009 15:12 IST

Mohammed Ajmal Kasab -- referred to as "accused number one" -- was ushered into court under a dirty white blanket, flanked by paramilitary soldiers in black jackets and riot helmets.

Police officers outside the special prison court in Mumbai craned their necks to catch a glimpse of the 21-year-old through the barred windows of the courtroom, while inside about 70 reporters jostled for a better view.

What emerged from underneath the blanket was striking in its ordinariness.

Slightly built, about five foot five inches (1.65 metres) tall, and wearing a grey T-shirt, three-quarter-length tracksuit trousers and flip-flops, Kasab looked like any other young man on the streets outside.

The suspect, who is accused of gunning down scores of people in the attacks on Mumbai in November, had a wispy beard and a tuft of jet black hair sticking up on his head.

With all eyes trained on him, Kasab looked around the court, and smiled occasionally as Judge M.L. Tahaliyani and lawyers argued over his legal representation.

Unable to understand the proceedings, which were mostly in English with an occasional Hindi phrase, Kasab -- an Urdu speaker -- looked bemused and disinterested in the trial that could end with him sentenced to death.

Beside him in the dock were Fahim Ansari and Sabauddin Ahmed, who are accused of providing logistical support for the 10 Mumbai attackers, of whom Kasab is the only survivor.

Ansari repeatedly looked towards his wife, who sat in the well of the court on a wooden dining chair, her face covered by a full-length veil.

The trio, all casually dressed, smiled and even laughed briefly as they exchanged words.

Kasab, a Pakistani national, was not provided with an interpreter. He took little interest as public prosecutor Ujjwal Nikkam addressed the judge in a high-pitched, rattling English.

When the judge asked Kasab whether he recognised Anjali Waghmare, his lawyer, Kasab replied in Urdu: "No. I don't." The judge said the two had been introduced, but Kasab replied "I don't remember."

As the legal arguments continued, Kasab took in the long courtroom which had just three windows to let in a little natural light, and smelt strongly of fresh paint.

After about one hour the judge adjourned the case, saying Waghmare had a conflict of interest over one potential prosecution witness, and reporters were led from the court.