India secretly hanged 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.
Pakistani Mohammad Ajmal Kasab was the enduring image of the bloody assault, which traumatized India and raised fears of copycat attacks on foreign cities. Pictures of the young 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 hanged yesterday morning amid great secrecy, underscoring the political sensitivity of the Nov. 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,” Indian Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde said after Kasab was hanged in a jail in Pune, southeast of Mumbai.
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 Indian cities as news of the execution spread, but militant groups in Pakistan reacted angrily.
People set off fireworks and handed out sweets. Some held up photos of Kasab with a 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.”
A senior commander of Pakistan’s Lashkar-e-Taiba militant group, which India blames for the assault on Mumbai, called Kasab a hero and said he would inspire more attacks.
“To die like Kasab is the dream of every fighter,” the commander said by telephone from an undisclosed location.
The Pakistan Taliban said they were shocked by the hanging.
“There is no doubt that it’s very shocking news and a big loss that a Muslim has been hanged on Indian soil,” Taliban spokesman Ihsanullah Ihsan said.
Kasab was buried inside the prison where he was hanged, officials said. He was quiet and seemed nervous before the execution, a prison guard told the NDTV network. He prayed and asked if his family had been informed, which they had.
India said it would hand over the body to Pakistan if asked.
This year, Saudi Arabia extradited an Indian-born militant accused of being one of the masterminds of the Mumbai attacks. Police say Sayeed Zabiuddin Ansari, also known as Abu Jindal, helped coordinate the attack from a “control room” in the Pakistani city of Karachi and also helped to train the gunmen.
In August, India’s Supreme Court upheld Kasab’s 2010 death sentence over the attacks. Indian President Pranab Mukherjee rejected his plea for clemency on Nov. 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.