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Mumbai attacks trial to start this week

india Updated: Apr 12, 2009 07:10 IST
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The trial of the lone Islamist militant suspect captured by police during the Mumbai attacks is due to start on Wednesday, amid tight security and under close international scrutiny.

Mohammed Ajmal Amir Iman, also known as Kasab, is to make his first public appearance since being arrested on November 26, soon after 10 gunmen began an assault that left more than 160 dead and over 300 others injured.

The 21-year-old Pakistani national, said to belong to the banned, Pakistan-based Islamist group Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), faces a string of charges, including "waging war" against India, murder, attempted murder and kidnapping. He faces the death penalty if convicted.

The trial is being held before a single judge without a jury at a special court in Mumbai's Arthur Road jail because of security fears that also saw all previous hearings held by video-link or behind closed doors.

Proceedings have been delayed while workers reinforced the structure and reportedly built a bomb-proof tunnel from Iman's cell after he received death threats.

There was also uncertainty about whether he would even be represented in court after the home of his state-appointed lawyer, Anjali Waghmare, was attacked by irate Hindu radicals and she was denounced for taking on the case.

She has since been given the highest level of police protection.

Iman, the nine dead gunmen and 35 other LeT "terrorists" sought in connection with the attacks are said to have carried out a "heinous criminal conspiracy" against the city and people of Mumbai and India, according to the chargesheet.

"This was with the express intention to destabilise India, wage war against the country, terrorise its citizens, create financial loss and issue a warning to other countries whose citizens were also targeted, humiliated and cold-bloodedly killed," it added.

Two other men are also on trial, Indian nationals Fahim Ansari, 35, and Sabauddin Ahmed, 24, who are said to have provided the group with invaluable logistical support before the attacks.

Iman was arrested as he and an accomplice tried to flee after planting a bomb in a taxi that took them to Mumbai's main railway station where they fired on unsuspecting commuters with automatic weapons and threw hand grenades.

More than 50 people died at the station and nearly 100 were injured. A number of police officers were killed as the gunmen left the scene, including the head of Mumbai's anti-terrorism squad.

The eight-kilogram (18-pound) bomb in the taxi exploded near Mumbai's airport, killing the driver and a passenger.

Twenty-six foreign nationals died in the Mumbai attacks, ensuring that Iman's trial receives international attention, said
Meenakshi Ganguly, from Human Rights Watch (HRW) in Mumbai.

HRW has already expressed concern about the delay in Iman getting legal representation and over calls, including from some senior lawyers, that no Indian counsel should agree to defend him.

"The fair trial issue is the most important thing," Ganguly told AFP. "It's important to understand that there are reasons why the law exists and the law is followed."

Prosecutors say they have ample evidence that "undoubtedly and conclusively" links the attacks to Pakistan, including mobile and satellite phone communication between the gunmen and their LeT "handlers."

Iman's DNA and fingerprints were found on items retrieved from the hijacked Indian fishing trawler the gunmen used to get to the Mumbai coast, according to an abridged version of the chargesheet made public in February.

There is CCTV and other footage of him at the station. Thirty eyewitnesses also picked him out in a series of identification parades, it added.