NEW DELHI (Reuters) - When police asked Mohammad Ajmal Kasab whether he felt pity for the people he gunned down during one of India’s bloodiest militant attacks, he said he had given it some thought beforehand.
He had been assured “you have to do these things, if you’re going to be a big man and get rewarded in heaven”, according to video footage of his interrogation, in which he talked of his training and handlers.
Captured as he tried to escape in a stolen car, Kasab was the only survivor among ten gunmen who killed 166 people on a three-day rampage across Mumbai in 2008, spraying bullets and throwing grenades as they hit some of the city’s most famous landmarks.
Kasab was hanged in secret on Wednesday in the western city of Pune, just days before the fourth anniversary of the attacks. He had no last request.
Friends in his home village in Pakistan’s Punjab province remember a boisterous, playful boy who loved films and karate. His aunt said she was proud of him.
But the image of Kasab, a baby-faced youth, filmed toting an AK-47 as he embarked on a killing spree at a crowded Mumbai railway station, became the face of the carnage that is often described as India’s equivalent of the September 11 attacks on the United States.
The violence, which India blames on the Pakistani militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba, temporarily ruptured a fragile peace process between the traditional foes.
Kasab was charged with 86 offences including murder and waging war against the Indian state as part of a charge-sheet that filled more than 11,000 pages. The twists and turns of his trial captivated a country that remained jittery for fear of further attacks.
“For the lives of the innocents who were killed in the attacks perpetrated by Mr Kasab, justice has been done,” Sanjeev Dayal, director general of Maharashtra police, told Reuters. “Their souls may now find some solace.”
At the start of his trial, Kasab smiled and occasionally broke into laughter. He initially confessed to the killings, only to later retract his statements and claim that he had travelled to Mumbai in the hope of landing a Bollywood film role.
Reports of his tantrums while in prison, including his chucking his prison food into the bin and demanding mutton biryani, sparked outrage in the Indian media.
“Though Kasab has been hanged, our sorrows continue and we have to live a painful life,” said Kalpana Shah, the wife of a real estate developer who was killed in the attacks. “It was such a cruel incident. But what can be done? We have to live with it,” she told Reuters, wiping back tears as she spoke.
Kasab was from the village of Faridkot in Pakistan’s farming belt in Punjab province. Indian authorities say he was born in 1987, although his age became the subject of a dispute at the trial, as his lawyers argued he was not even 17 during the attacks and should be tried in a juvenile court.
A classmate, speaking to Reuters by phone and not wanting to be identified, said Kasab had left his village in search of work when he was a poor teenage laborer. Another schoolmate remembers taking karate lessons with him.
“He comes from a very humble but noble, honest family. His father was a street vendor selling snacks on a cart. Kasab did not send any money home and his family is still as poor as they were before he left. He was probably trapped by some religious group,” recalls Haji Mohammad Aslam, Kasab’s neighbor who owns a shop where his family lived.
“He was very active, always jumping around. He loved watching films,” Aslam told Reuters by phone. “He would stay out until midnight watching TV in shops and street restaurants. He grew up in our hands; he was a playful boy and it’s not possible that he did all this.”
According to investigators, Kasab said he had undergone months of commando-style training in an Islamist training camp organized by Lashkar-e-Taiba and conducted by a former member of the Pakistani army.
Lashkar made its name fighting Indian rule in Kashmir but was also blamed for an attack on the Indian parliament in 2001 that brought the two nuclear-armed rivals close to a fourth war.
Kasab was one of a squad of ten who crept into Mumbai on three inflatable speedboats shortly after nightfall on Nov 26, 2008. The group had sailed across the Arabian Sea from Karachi for days, hijacking an Indian trawler on their way and killing its crew.
The group fanned out in the city, attacking targets including two luxury hotels, a bar popular with tourists, and a Jewish centre.
Kasab was filmed walking through the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, a gothic train station, in an attack in which nearly 60 people were killed and left to lie in pools of blood.
An effigy of Kasab, with a noose around his neck, was hung from the entrance gate of the station by a right-wing local party. A crowd of about 30 shouted “Pakistan murdabad” (death to Pakistan) as they beat the effigy, which had shoes hung around its shoulders.
In contrast, a senior commander of Lashkar celebrated Kasab as a “hero” who would inspire others to follow in his footsteps.
“This news is hell for us,” Shahnaz Sughra, Kasab’s aunt, told Reuters by phone. “...Even if he did something wrong, we just want his body. Even if he did something wrong, I am proud that he taught the enemy a lesson in their own country.”
Additional reporting by Mehreen Zahra-Malik in Islamabad; Nandita Bose, Aradhana Aravindan, Kaustubh Kulkarni and Henry Foy in Mumbai; Editing by Frank Jack Daniel