A historic trial awaits a historic verdict

Staff Reporter

26/11: prosecution filed voluminous charge sheet of over 11,000 pages

Mumbai: The unprecedented nature of the November 26, 2008 terror attacks saw a trial which has been termed “historic” on many counts. At the centre of national and international attention as well as of public ire is the lone surviving gunman Mohammad Ajmal Amir Kasab, on whom judgment is slated to be pronounced on May 3.

Amid vitriolic calls for a prompt death penalty, the trial began on April 15, 2009. A special sessions court was built in the high-security Arthur Road jail here, where Kasab is lodged. Two Indians who faced trial along with him are Mumbai-based Fahim Ansari and Uttar Pradesh resident Sabahuddin Ahmed. The two are accused respectively of making and passing on sketches of target locations to the Lashkar-e-Taiba.

The prosecution filed a voluminous charge sheet of over 11,000 pages. It examined 653 witnesses, including first-hand testimonies of victims, formal witnesses, ballistic and forensic experts, documentary as well as circumstantial evidence.

In his arguments, Special Public Prosecutor Ujjwal Nikam called it “a mammoth trial” with many “legal firsts in the history of the Indian judicial system.”

Of the 653 witnesses, 296 tendered evidence in court while the others submitted affidavits. “It is the first time in the legal history of Maharashtra that such a large amount of formal evidence was tendered by way of affidavits.” It was also for the first time that officers of the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation deposed before a court here.

A huge volume of evidence was adduced against Kasab, who faces the serious charges of waging war, criminal conspiracy and murder, among others. Eyewitnesses and victims identified him in court, at times amid dramatic scenes. The documentary evidence comprises conversations between the attackers and their handlers and photos taken by two press photographers.

Kasab himself spoke of the carnage in four important stages. He gave “a disclosure statement” right after he was apprehended. He gave a judicial confession before a magistrate on February 18, 20 and 21, 2009. His tell-all plea of guilt was recorded in an open court last July, when he asked for the sentence to be pronounced. He also asked the court to hang him.

However, in his statement recorded under Section 313 of the Criminal Procedure Code, Kasab completely denied his role in the attack and claimed that he was made the fall guy.

The case against Fahim and Sabahuddin, on the other hand, rests primarily on the evidence of Nuruddin Shaikh. He claimed to know Fahim and to have seen an incriminating exchange between the two accused. Fahim admitted to making the map, but later alleged that he made the admission in police custody under pressure.

The prosecution went beyond seeking to prove the role of Kasab, and presented the angle of conspiracy tracing it to Pakistan. Mr. Nikam termed the attacks “a case of Pakistan-sponsored terrorism.” There are 35 wanted accused from Pakistan.

The sheer dimensions of the case are phenomenal. A trial in the same case is being held in Pakistan.

At the same time, a legal process is under way in the United States, whose FBI has in its custody Lashkar terror operative and Pakistan-American national David Coleman Headley for his role in the 26/11 attacks.

The media glare and public scrutiny are at their peak. In many ways, this historic trial awaits a historic verdict.