Gunman Attempts to Retract Confession in Mumbai Attack

By Rama Lakshmi
(c) 2009, The Washington Post

NEW DELHI, India — The lone gunman captured during the deadly attack in Mumbai last November sought in court Friday to take back his confession, which he claimed was taken under duress by the Indian police.

On the first day of trial in a special court set up inside a Mumbai prison, Ajmal Amir Kasab told a judge that he did not make the confession statement that was read out by the prosecution in Hindi and Urdu languages, his lawyers said.

"Kasab's confessional statement was provided to us in court. It was then shown to Kasab. Immediately he said `I have not made this confession,' " said defense attorney Abbas Kazmi, speaking to reporters outside the court. "He said this signature was obtained out of force and coercion. He said, `when I was in police custody, I was tortured too.' We have moved the court to retract the confession statement."

Kazmi said that the accused does not want to plead guilty and wants to fight the case. The confession statement was recorded in February by judicial magistrate, and is the basis for the police charges.

Kasab is accused of being one of the ten heavily armed gunmen who entered Mumbai by boat last November and launched a horrific three-day attack on two five-star hotels, a restaurant, a train station and a Jewish center, killing more than 170 people, including six Americans.

He was the only alleged attacker who was caught by the Mumbai police. Authorities said Kasab had confessed to being a Pakistani national.

India blamed the Pakistan-based Islamist group, the Lashkar-i-Taiba, for training and directing the gunmen.

Kasab faces the death penalty if convicted of taking part in the attacks,

The prosecution bench on Friday began the trial against Kasab by presenting the 21-page confession statement that he allegedly made to the police and a judicial magistrate after his arrest. The charges against Kasab included criminal conspiracy and waging war against the Indian state. He was booked for direct involvement in seven cases and as a co-conspirator in five cases, and charged with killing people at the train station.

During Thursday's hearing, his lawyer said Kasab was under 17 and should be tried in a juvenile court. But the prosecution lawyer, Ujjwal Nikam, said Kasab had given his age as 21 on three different occasions while giving his confession.

"He is lying," said Nikam, "It's clear he is not a minor." According to a Times of India report, Judge M. L Tahiliyani ruled that Kasab did not appear to be younger than 17. He rejected the application to move the case to juvenile court, saying it was "frivolous and intended to delay the trial."

Reading from Kasab's confession, Nikam said in court that Kasab's handlers had instructed the ten gunmen to specifically target American, British and Israeli citizens in Mumbai and avoid Muslims. He said Kasab described a Pakistani army official as being present during the training and allegedly setting up the internet telephone system through which the gunmen communicated with their counterparts in Pakistan during the attack.

Kazmi said that he has not had time to talk about the case in detail with Kasab.

"I spoke to him for ten minutes yesterday. Today, just five minutes," Kazmi told reporters. "This is not a normal trial where the accused can sit and talk in peace with an advocate.

"I need a free atmosphere and I have not got it yet."

He said that Kasab appeared afraid on Friday. "Last time (Thursday) he was giggling and having fun. His thinking has changed now."

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