India terror trial resumes

July 23, 2009 12:00 am

, MUMBAI, Jul 23 – An Indian judge on Thursday ruled the trial of the sole surviving gunman of the Mumbai attacks would continue despite the accused’s confession to his role in the carnage.

Judge M.L. Tahaliyani described Mohammed Ajmal Kasab’s confession as only a "partial admission" of guilt to the scores of charges the Pakistani national faces over the attacks, in which 10 gunmen killed 166 people in November.

"The statement made by accused number one (Kasab) is a partial admission," Tahaliyani said. "He has however not admitted to all of the 86 charges framed against him."

The prosecution argued that Kasab’s surprise confession on Monday, after he had initially pleaded not guilty, minimised his role in the violence and could have been an attempt to help his mentors awaiting trial in Pakistan.

Evidence from the Mumbai trial could theoretically be used in Pakistan against five members of Islamist group Lashkar-e-Taiba, including the alleged mastermind Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, prosecution lawyers told the court.

The judge dismissed that argument but ruled that Kasab’s confession would be kept on record and considered by the court "at an appropriate stage."

He ordered the trial to continue and said the next witness would be called in the afternoon session.

Prosecuting lawyer Ujjwal Nikam said that the judge’s decision "totally vindicated" his stance that the confession should not end the trial.

After the judge’s ruling, defence lawyer Abbas Kazmi applied to be relieved of his duties, citing his poor relationship with Kasab.

"My client is not having confidence in me," he said. "In such circumstances, I think I should recuse (withdraw) myself."

The judge, who said he opposed the request, asked Kasab whether he had any complaints about Kazmi. Kasab replied that he did not.

Kazmi was appointed to represent Kasab in April, after the trial began in disarray and with a previous lawyer dismissed over a conflict of interest.

The case, seen as a major test of the Indian justice system, has been dogged by the issue of who should defend Kasab.

The Mumbai Metropolitan Magistrate Court’s Bar Association resolved not to represent him, while some lawyers who said they were willing to take on the case had their homes attacked.

The Hindu nationalist Shiv Sena party even called for Kasab to be executed without trial outside the Mumbai railway station where he and another militant are accused of massacring scores of commuters.

Kasab told the court Wednesday that he was ready to accept the death penalty.


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