India Hangs the Only Surviving Mumbai Attacker

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NEW DELHI -- India hanged Ajmal Kasab, the lone surviving Pakistani gunman from the November 2008 terror attacks in Mumbai that left 166 people dead, in a surprise action on Wednesday that analysts in both countries said would nonetheless be unlikely to derail improving ties.

Mr. Kasab was one of 10 young men who hijacked an Indian fishing boat, killed its captain, took a rubber dinghy into Mumbai and then systematically attacked high-end hotels, a train station, a hospital and a Jewish community center over the course of three chaotic days. The 10 were members of Lashkar-e-Taiba, a Pakistani-based terrorist group, and their actions were directed by phone by people in Pakistan. Nine of the attackers were killed by Indian forces, and their bodies were buried in an undisclosed location. Only Mr. Kasab survived.

Pictures of Mr. Kasab wearing a black shirt and carrying an automatic weapon played on television all day on Wednesday in India, where the execution received blanket coverage. By contrast, news channels in Pakistan gave it considerably less attention, and the Pakistani government avoided direct comment on Mr. Kasab, with a Foreign Office spokesman saying only that Pakistan "condemned terrorism in all its forms and manifestation."

Tariq Fatemi, a retired Pakistani senior diplomat, said that some extremist groups would be angered by the hanging but that many other Pakistanis, including senior government officials, had been "deeply embarrassed" by Mr. Kasab and the Mumbai attacks. And he predicted that the hanging would do little to slow improving ties between the two countries.

"There is a virtual consensus among Pakistan's mainstream political parties on the importance of keeping the process on the rails and even promoting it," said Mr. Fatemi, citing recent trade liberalization measures.

Indeed, President Asif Ali Zardari of Pakistan confirmed on Tuesday that his country had ratified an agreement with India to allow six-month visitors visas, one of many steps in the two nations' growing ties.

Despite the notable silence by Pakistani officials, news of Mr. Kasab's execution met with a smoldering, almost resentful reception at his home village of Faridkot, about 150 miles from the eastern city of Lahore. Residents there on Wednesday either tried to distance themselves from the notorious militant or painted him as the victim of a vast Indian conspiracy.

"We have nothing to do with this hanging," said Muhmmad Siddique, a 45-year-old rural laborer who, like several others, said Mr. Kasab was the victim of efforts by the Indian government to paint Pakistan as a "terrorist nation."

As reporters and photographers arrived in the village, a modest farming center of about 1,300 families, a powerful local landlord and former mayor, Ghulam Mustafa Watoo, gathered people in the town center and gave orders for journalists to be forced to leave.

"The media is defaming our village," he said. "We have repeatedly denied any link with Ajmal." He claimed that Mr. Kasab in fact hails from a different village of the same name, across the border in India. Still, he added that he was against the hanging.

"To pardon is a good thing," he said, before launching into a discussion of the 65-year-old enmity between India and Pakistan.

Men armed with batons stood at the top of the street where Mr. Kasab's family once lived, barring the media from entering. At any rate, there was nobody home -- the family left Faridkot some years ago, according to several reports.

For months after the attacks, Pakistan denied that Mr. Kasab was one of its citizens. The country finally admitted that he was in 2009.

In a letter and follow-up fax to the Pakistani Foreign Ministry, Indian officials asked that Mr. Kasab's family be informed of his execution. Since no one had asked for Mr. Kasab's body, the government buried him at the Yeravada Central Prison in Pune, officials said.

Mr. Kasab was sentenced to hang in May 2010, but executions have become so rare in India -- the last was in 2004 -- that there had long been speculation about whether Indian officials would commute the sentence and, if not, when it might be carried out.

Indian officials said that Mr. Kasab's execution hit the fast track on Nov. 5, when President Pranab Mukherjee, a veteran of India's dominant Congress Party, decided on Nov. 5 to reject Mr. Kasab's appeal for clemency. Some suspected politics played a role: crucial state elections will be held next month in Gujarat, where anti-Muslim and anti-Pakistan sentiments are popular and where the Congress Party is a considerable underdog.

Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde denied, however, that any domestic political considerations played a role in the timing of Mr. Kasab's hanging.

Analysts note that even after Mr. Kasab's execution, many loose ends remain about the Mumbai attacks. Stephen Tankel, a lecturer at American University in Washington, D.C., and author of a book on Lashkar-e-Taiba, said that pressing questions loomed over the ability -- or willingness -- of the Pakistani government to successfully prosecute seven Lashkar-e-Taiba activists who stand accused of orchestrating the attacks, and who are currently on trial in Rawalpindi.

"This closes one chapter for India, but others remain open," Mr. Tankel said.

Reporting was contributed by Hari Kumar from New Delhi, Waqar Gillani from Faridkot, Pakistan, and Declan Walsh and Salman Masood from Islamabad.

world

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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