MUMBAI, India/FARIDKOT, Pakistan (Reuters) – India secretly hanged Mohammad Ajmal Kasab, the lone survivor of the Pakistan-based militant squad responsible for a rampage through Mumbai that killed 166 people, sparking celebrations days before the fourth anniversary of the assault on the financial capital.
Pakistan national Kasab was the enduring image of the bloody assault, which traumatised India and raised fears of copycat attacks on foreign cities. Pictures of the boyish gunman wearing a black T-shirt and toting an AK-47 rifle as he strode through Mumbai’s train station were published around the world.
Kasab was executed on Wednesday morning amid great secrecy, underscoring the political sensitivity of the November 26, 2008, massacre, which still casts a pall over relations between nuclear-armed rivals Pakistan and India.
“All the police officers and personnel who lost their life in the battle against the terrorists have today been served justice,” Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde said after Kasab was hanged in a jail in Pune, southeast of Mumbai.
Kasab was charged with 86 offences, including murder and waging war against the Indian state, in a charge-sheet running to more than 11,000 pages.
It was the first time a capital sentence had been carried out in India since 2004. There was celebration on the streets of Mumbai and other cities as news of the execution spread, but militant groups in Pakistan reacted angrily, as did residents of his home village of Faridkot.
People set off fireworks and handed out sweets in India. Some held up photos of Kasab with a rope noose superimposed over his head.
Attack survivor Vishnu Zende, who was working at Mumbai’s train station where nearly 60 people were killed, said the execution brought it all back.
“When I heard the news of Kasab’s execution today, I remembered those horrifying moments of the attack,” Zende said.
“My eyes were filled with tears.”
IN PICTURES: Indians cheer death of Kasab, click Pranab Mukherjee rejected his plea for clemency on November 5, although this was not made public until Tuesday night.
The timing of the execution, shortly before a series of state elections, may be beneficial for the government, which opposition leaders accuse of being soft on national security.
Ten militants arrived on the Mumbai shoreline in a dinghy on November 26, 2008, before splitting into four groups and embarking on a killing spree. They held off elite commandos for up to 60 hours in two luxury hotels and a Jewish centre in the city.
IN PICTURES: Mumbai 26/11 attacks click here
India says Islamabad is failing to act against those behind the raids, including LeT founder Hafiz Saeed, who has a $10 million U.S. bounty on his head. Pakistan admits the attacks were planned on its soil, but denies official involvement.
It says seven suspects are being prosecuted for their role.
“Kasab was a foot soldier, the generals are in Islamabad, in Pakistan, and full justice will be done when they are brought to justice,” Gopalapuram Parthasarathy, a former ambassador to Pakistan, told Reuters.
Improving relations with Pakistan is a keystone of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh‘s foreign policy. Singh, who was born in present-day Pakistan when it was still part of British India, has repeatedly postponed visiting the country because of lack of progress on convicting the Mumbai suspects.
However, India and Pakistan’s relations have gradually improved since the attacks, with progress made on trade and economic ties.
Possibly because of the planned execution, India on Tuesday asked Pakistan to postpone a visit this week by Interior Minister Rehman Malik, saying the dates were “not suitable for us”. Malik was due to put the final seal on a deal to ease visa restriction for travellers.
Kasab’s execution happened very quickly for India’s usually glacial justice system. Three people convicted of the assassination of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi are still on death row, 21 years after he was killed by a suicide bomb.
In Pakistan, many said the hanging happened quickly only because of his nationality. People questioned whether Kasab was really guilty, despite the video evidence.
Pakistan was informed beforehand about Kasab’s execution, said a Pakistani foreign ministry official who asked not to be identified. “If all judicial procedures were followed, then the decision is acceptable,” the official said.
(Writing by Frank Jack Daniel and Ross Colvin; Additional reporting by Annie Banerji, Arup Roychoudhury, Diksha Madhok, and Suchitra Mohanty in NEW DELHI, Swati Bhat, Henry Foy and Aradhana Aravindan in MUMBAI, Imtiaz Shah in KARACHI and Michael Georgy and Mehreen Zahra-Malik; in ISLAMABAD.; Editing by Nick Macfie)