MUMBAI — The sole surviving gunman from the 2008 Mumbai attacks was executed Wednesday to the relief of victims’ families, nearly four years after 166 people died in a three-day rampage that traumatised India.
Pakistani-born Mohammed Ajmal Kasab, 25, was hanged at a prison in western India for his role in the assaults that targeted luxury hotels, a Jewish centre, a hospital and commuters at Mumbai’s main train station.
“Kasab deserved the extreme punishment... I think one sad, sorrowful chapter has come to an end,” said P. Chidambaram, who took over as home minister following the attacks with a brief to reform the police and domestic intelligence agencies.
Kasab — a school dropout who became a member of the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) militant group blamed by India for the attacks — was executed and buried at the Yerwada Prison in the city of Pune.
Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid said they sent the news to a Pakistani address Kasab gave during confessions. The Press Trust of India news agency reported that he had asked prison guards to inform his mother of his fate.
His death at 7:30am (0200 GMT) — which was kept a secret until it was announced about an hour later — was almost universally welcomed in India, which last carried out an execution in 2004 and faces a shortage of hangmen.
On the streets of Mumbai, the city’s famous “dabbawallas” or lunchbox deliverers let off firecrackers on hearing the news.
Activists with the hardline Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party celebrated with music, dancing and placard-waving, while a local rightwing party hung a Kasab effigy at the station that came under siege.
Chidambaram, who is now finance minister, said victims’ families would now have “some sense of satisfaction that justice has been done in the case of the one perpetrator who we were able to capture alive”.
Kasab, a former labourer and small-time criminal, was one of 10 heavily-armed Islamist gunmen who began their siege of Mumbai on November 26, 2008.
All except him died during what was intended as a suicide mission.
Kasab has been immortalised in photographs and video footage presented during his trial showing him at Mumbai’s train station wielding an automatic weapon and throwing grenades.
Devika Rotwan was the youngest eyewitness at his trial, aged just 10 when a bullet hit her right leg as Kasab and a fellow gunman opened fire at the train station during one of the bloodiest phases of the attacks.
“I am very happy that Kasab has been hanged. I had always felt and said that it should have happened earlier, but it is good,” Rotwan told AFP.
The Mumbai attacks traumatised India as the siege unfolded live on television, exposing the antiquated weapons and methods of the local police force and revealing crucial gaps in the country’s defences.
They also derailed a nascent peace process between nuclear-armed India and Pakistan, with New Delhi accusing elements of the Pakistani state — notably the ISI intelligence agency — of abetting the attacks.
Pakistan’s failure to convict anyone over the carnage continues to bedevil efforts for a lasting peace agreement.
“Frankly speaking, we have allowed the rule of law to prevail,” Khurshid told reporters. “Similarly we hope and expect rule of law to prevail in Pakistan as well.”
In Kasab’s former home village in Pakistan, farmers lashed out at India over the news and hounded out journalists who asked about their notorious son, while Islamabad was tight-lipped, issuing a statement condemning terrorism.
Kasab was sentenced to death in May 2010 after being found guilty of a string of charges, including waging war against India, murder and terrorist acts.
The verdict was upheld by the Supreme Court in August and President Pranab Mukherjee rejected Kasab’s pleas for mercy earlier this month.
Prisoners can often languish for years on death row but there had been a huge clamour for Kasab’s execution.
India has executed just one other person in 15 years — a former security guard hanged in 2004 for the rape and murder of a 14-year-old girl.
Moumina Khatoon, a mother of four who lost her husband after the gunmen placed a bomb in his taxi, said she was glad the “monster” was dead. But not all the victims’ families were rejoicing.
“None of this is going to bring my wife back,” said Santanu Saikia, whose spouse Sabina was killed in her room in the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel.
Human Rights Watch criticised the execution, saying it marked a “concerning end to the country’s moratorium on capital punishment”, echoing comments from the International Commission of Jurists.
Kasab initially pleaded not guilty at his trial but later confessed, admitting he was one of the gunmen sent by the LeT.