Surprise Confession by Surviving Mumbai Gunman

The lone surviving gunman in the Mumbai attacks made a surprise confession at his trial Monday, saying he was recruited by a militant group inside Pakistan after he left a low-paying job and went looking for training to become a professional robber.

The confession by Ajmal Kasab bolstered India's charges that
terrorist groups in neighboring Pakistan were behind the
well-planned attack, and that it is not doing enough to clamp down
on them. The attack in which 166 people died severely strained
relations and put the brakes on a peace process between the
nuclear-armed enemies.

As part of the confession, Kasab described how he sprayed
automatic gunfire at commuters while a comrade hurled grenades
inside a railway station during one of India's worst terrorist
acts.

"I was in front of Abu Ismail who had taken such a position
that no one could see him," Kasab told the court. "We both fired,
Abu Ismail and I. We fired on the public," he said, speaking in
Hindi.

Kasab, a Pakistani who had consistently denied a role in the
November rampage, reversed himself without warning, shocking even
his lawyer.

In a calmly delivered statement, Kasab described how the
attackers were sent from Karachi, Pakistan, by four men - some of
them known leaders with the Pakistan-based Islamic extremist group
Lashkar-e-Taiba.

They traveled by boat arriving Nov. 26 in Mumbai, where they
unleashed three days of mayhem. The 10 gunmen, armed with automatic
rifles and grenades, split into pairs and killed people at a
railway station, a Jewish center, a hospital and two five-star
hotels, including the Taj Mahal.

Seema Desai, an analyst at the Eurasia Group in London, said
Kasab's assertions could "increase tensions between India and
Pakistan."

"Most likely Pakistan will not give his statements much
credence and will question the circumstances under which he changed
his story," she said in an e-mail.

Kasab faces the death penalty if convicted on the charges of
murder and waging war against the country.

As the 66th day of Kasab's trial started Monday morning, he
stood up just as a prosecution witness was to take the stand, and
addressed the judge.

"Sir, I plead guilty to my crime," said Kasab, 21, triggering
a collective gasp in the courtroom.

After a debate on the legality of such a confession, Kasab's
statement was recorded, and the judge said he would have Kasab sign
each page of the document, which would be reviewed by his lawyer,
formally reversing his plea from innocent to guilty.

Kasab said he and Abu Ismail went to the Chatrapati Shivaji
railway station in a taxi and left a bomb in the vehicle.

"I went to the restroom and attached a battery to a bomb and
put it in a bag. Abu followed me to restroom and I asked him what I
should do with the bomb."

"'Let's see,' Abu told me," he said.

They moved to the railroad station hall, packed with commuters.
Abu Ismail put the bag near a pillar and stood close to a wall
where they began shooting at people. Soon, policemen joined the
fight. The bomb never exploded.

"I was firing and Abu was hurling hand grenades ... I fired at
a policeman after which there was no firing from the police side,"
Kasab said.

From the railway station, where they killed more than 50, the
two went to Cama hospital. A few more were killed there. The pair
then went to the Chowpatty beach in a hijacked vehicle where Ismail
was killed and Kasab was captured after a shootout with the police.

Kasab was treated for wounds and has since been held in solitary
confinement in Mumbai's Arthur Road Jail where the trial is being
conducted.

The siege of Mumbai, India's financial and entertainment
capital, ended Nov. 29 with troops storming the Taj Mahal Hotel
where some gunmen were holding hostages. All attackers except Kasab
were killed.

Kasab said his confession was not coerced. "There is no
pressure on me. I am making the statement of my own will," he
said.

As part of the confession, he told how he became involved with
Lashkar-e-Taiba. He said he became unhappy with his low wages as a
shop assistant in the town of Jhelum in Pakistan, and left for
Rawalpindi with the intention of becoming a professional robber.

While attending a festival in Rawalpindi, he and a friend
decided to seek out the mujahedeen, who they thought could help
train them as bandits. They went to a local bazaar and were
directed to the local Lashkar office, he said.

Before being sent to India, Kasab said he lived in a house in
Pakistan's largest city Karachi for a month-and-a-half with 10
other young men. All of them were transferred to another home and
taken to sea where they met four handlers.

One of them was an Indian, who taught the attackers Hindi, he
said.

Kasab confessed after his capture, but later withdrew that
statement, saying it had been made under duress.

Last week, the Pakistan government gave a dossier to India
providing new evidence of Lashkar-e-Taiba's role in the attack, and
naming Kasab as a participant.

Asked by judge M.L. Tahiliyani why he confessed now, Kasab said
it was because the Pakistani government recently acknowledged he
was a Pakistani citizen, dealing a blow to his defense.

"If Pakistan has accepted me as its citizen, then end this case
and punish me for my crime," he said. "My request is that we end
the trial and I be sentenced."

Tahiliyani said no immediate judgment would be issued and the
trial will resume Tuesday.

Pakistan Foreign Ministry spokesman Abdul Basit declined to
comment on Kasab's court admission, but events took those at the
hearing by surprise.

"Everybody in the court was shocked the moment he said he
accepts his crime. It was unexpected," public prosecutor Ujjwal
Nikam said. "We have finally extracted the truth."

Kasab said he killed fewer people than the prosecution alleges.
Nikam said the confession could be a ploy to try for a lighter
sentence.

An Indian court issued arrest warrants in June for 22 Pakistani
nationals accused of masterminding the attacks, including Hafiz
Mohammed Saeed, the founder of Lashkar-e-Taiba and two other
leaders of the group named by Kasab as being involved.


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