Rajanish Kakade/Associated Press
By VIKAS BAJAJ and LYDIA POLGREEN
Published: July 20, 2009
MUMBAI, India — The sole surviving gunman of the deadly rampage in Mumbai unexpectedly confessed in court here on Monday, adding his voice, matter-of-fact even as he spoke of opening fire into crowds, to what may be the most well-documented terrorist attack anywhere.
The Times's Vikas Bajaj on the unexpected confession of Ajmal Kasab, the only survivor among the team of gunmen who killed more than 160 people in Mumbai last November.
The gunman, Ajmal Kasab, 21, was the man in an infamous surveillance photograph, looking calm with a blue T-shirt and a machine gun. The photograph was one part of an extraordinary electronic record reviewed during the trial, which the judge ruled would go on. Other tapes showed his fellow gunmen shooting up luxury hotels. Recordings of intercepted phone calls provided a spooky, real-time narration between the handlers and the gunmen, who at times needed to be prodded into action and were stunned at the opulence of one hotel.
“Everything is being recorded by the media,” one of the handlers told the gunmen at the Oberoi Hotel. “Inflict maximum damage. Keep fighting. Don’t be taken alive.”
But it did not appear to be the evidence that prompted Mr. Kasab to confess to his role in the attacks, where more than 160 people were killed in November in luxury hotels, a train station, a popular cafe and a Jewish center. He said it was because his native Pakistan, which had denied any role in the attacks, had begun cooperating more with India and identified him as a participant.
“I don’t think I am innocent,” he said, speaking in subdued Hindi. “My request is that we end the trial and be sentenced.”
For the better part of a day he held the courtroom spellbound: he portrayed himself as a poor Pakistani who joined the militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba only for money. But in the end, the mission was martyrdom, inflicting the greatest amount of death and chaos along the way. He told the court how he and his partner had assembled a bomb in a public bathroom at a train station, then planted another bomb in a taxi.
“I was firing, and Abu was hurling hand grenades,” he told the court, referring to his partner and to the assault on the train station, where more than 50 people were killed. “I fired at a policeman, after which there was no firing from the police side.”
His journey to Mumbai was at once banal and strange.
He told Judge M. L. Tahilyani that he was broke and tired of his job working for decorator in Jhelum, a small town in Pakistan, and making a pittance. He and a friend had hatched a plan. They would earn cash by robbing people. And to improve their banditry skills they would seek out military training from the easiest source available to a young Pakistani man: Islamic militants.
Mr. Kasab and his friend went to Rawalpindi, he said, and asked in the market where they might find mujahedeen. They were directed to the office of Lashkar-e-Taiba. Indian and American investigators say that Lashkar-e-Taiba planned the attacks in Pakistan. Although Pakistan initially denied that any of its citizens had been involved, it has now charged five men believed to be Pakistan-based Lashkar operatives with involvement. The organization’s founder, Hafez Saeed, has not been charged.
In the months before the attack, Mr. Kasab said in court, he and the other attackers were taken to a safe house in Karachi, the coastal city that is the commercial capital of Pakistan and is a world away from the Punjabi village where his family lived.
There the young men were cut off from the world. He said they and their trainers were not told where they would go next nor were they given any details about their mission, though it was clear that it would involve lethal weapons and deadly force.
“They told us we were to wait for some time,” Mr. Kasab said in court. “There was some problem.” They were warned sternly that “nobody will disobey” their orders.
In a month and a half, they were allowed out of the house only once for a training exercise when they were taught how to navigate the inflatable boats that they would use to leave Pakistani waters.
On Nov. 26, Mr. Kasab and nine other Pakistani men headed toward Mumbai in an inflatable dinghy, each of them armed with a Kalashnikov, a 9 millimeter, ammunition, hand grenades and a bomb containing explosives, steel ball bearings and a timer.
It is clear from the electronic record that the attackers seemed unworldly tools of their handlers.
In one video clip, the attackers wander through the Taj Mahal Palace & Tower hotel, seemingly dazed by the opulence of their surroundings. The 30-inch computer screens, huge windows, bathrooms and kitchens stunned the gunmen, most of them in their early 20s.
But they quickly snapped out of it, and the videos captured the muzzle flashes of the attackers’ Kalashnikovs as they opened fire in marbled hallways, kicking in hotel room doors and mowing down those hiding behind them.
A handler instructed a gunman, “For your mission to end successfully you must be killed.”
In the last recorded call just as the siege was about to end with an attack by Indian soldiers, a handler told one of the attackers at the Jewish community center: “Brother, you have to fight. This is a matter of the prestige of Islam.”
As one of the fighters lay bleeding, he told his handler: “I am shot, pray for me.”
And then: “Pray that God will accept my martyrdom.”
When the smoke cleared, Mr. Kasab was the only survivor among the attackers. He was arrested and confessed on camera, giving a slightly different version of his life story to his interrogators, who questioned him in his hospital bed. He later recanted that confession.
In that version, first aired in Dispatches, a documentary show on Channel 4 in Britain that obtained leaked recordings, Mr. Kasab said that he had joined Lashkar-e-Taiba at the urging of his father, who said he would earn a lot of money and would “give us some of the money, too, and we won’t be poor anymore. Your brothers and sisters will be able to get married. Look, son, the way these people eat and live comfortably, you will do so, too.”
Vikas Bajaj reported from Mumbai, India, and Lydia Polgreen from New Delhi. Hari Kumar contributed reporting from New Delhi.
A version of this article appeared in print on July 21, 2009, on page A1 of the New York edition.