Mumbai terror attack trial opens Monday

March 22nd, 2009 - 1:30 pm ICT by IANS  

By Quaid Najmi
Mumbai, March 22 (IANS) The stage is set for what will be one of the most eagerly watched trials in Indian history — with the men in the dock being Mohammed Ajmal Amir alias Kasab, the lone surviving attacker of the Nov 26, 2008, Mumbai terror bloodbath, and two other co-accused.

The trial formally opens Monday at the Special Court set up inside the heavily secured precincts of the Arthur Road Jail in south-central Mumbai. The jail is also being guarded by a three-tier security force comprising Mumbai Police, the Indo-Tibetan Border Police and the jail’s own security guards.

Special Judge M.L. Tahilyani shall preside over the trial that will draw the attention of the national and international media.

Apart from Kasab, the other two accused in the case are Fahim Ansari and Sabahuddin Mohammed, suspected members of the terrorist group Lashkar-e-Taiba who are alleged to be accomplices in the crime that shook the world and left India traumatised.

While the prosecution will be led by Special Public Prosecutor Ujwal Nikam, Ansari and Mohammed are being represented by noted criminal lawyer Aejaz Naqvi.

Nikam said Monday would mark the formal opening of the trial, but it would not be the actual date of hearing. That will be decided by the judge.

“On the opening day, certain legal formalities shall be carried out by the Special Judge after which he will give the date of hearing,” Nikam said.

He said the judge will first ask Kasab formal questions like whether he has been served with a copy of the chargesheet and whether he has gone through it. All this will be done through a video-conference link.

This was necessary as Kasab, Ansari and Mohammed had sought a copy of the chargesheet in Urdu since they could not understand English and Marathi. Their plea was rejected by a Mumbai magistrate last month.

“The Special Judge would also want to know whether the accused has appointed a lawyer to represent him in the matter. If not, then the honourable court would make all arrangement to ensure that he has a lawyer to defend him,” Nikam said.

Two months ago, lawyers in Mumbai had unanimously announced that none of them would represent Kasab in the trial and he has been unrepresented at all the remand hearings conducted so far.

The court would first seek assistance from the Maharashtra Legal Aid Cell to provide a lawyer for Kasab.

“If that does not work for some reasons, or if Kasab refuses to take legal help, then I plan to move an application asking the honourable court to appoint an ‘amicus curae’ (friend of the court) to represent Kasab,” he said.

When asked whether the ‘amicus curae’ could refuse to represent Kasab, Nikam termed it as “a remote possibility”, since any lawyer would consider it an honour to be appointed as such.

“My endeavour shall be to ensure that the accused does not go unrepresented in the court in the best judicial traditions practised in this country. We shall take all precautions for this as required,” Nikam emphasised.

Advocate Naqvi, representing the co-accused Ansari and Mohammed, told IANS that on the first day, he would move a bail application on behalf of his clients.

“Thereafter, we shall move a discharge application, seeking their discharge from the Mumbai terror attacks case,” Naqvi said.

When asked whether the forthcoming summer vacations in the court could hamper the trial, Nikam replied in the negative.

“We are committed to completing the trial in three to six months and, if necessary, I shall request that the honourable court may consider carrying on with the trial during the brief summer vacations,” he said.

On Feb 25, Mumbai Police filed a voluminous chargesheet running into over 11,000 pages against Kasab and 37 others, including Ansari and Mohammed.

The remaining 35 have been listed in the chargesheet as “wanted absconders”. Among the charges under different sections of various Indian laws are waging war against the nation, terrorist activities, kidnapping, entering the country illegally, attempt to murder, murders, planning and abetting the Mumbai terror attacks, attacks conspiracy, etc.

Nine associates of Kasab were killed by the combined security operations that battled the terrorists for 60 hours at several locations, including a busy railway terminus, luxury hotels and a Jewish centre, all in south Mumbai.

The carnage resulted in the killing of over 170 Indians, foreigners and security personnel and injuries to more than 300 people. Eighteen security personnel were among those killed.

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