Thursday, November 22, 2012

Kasab hangs, justice for 26/11 still elusive

MUMBAI/PUNE, November 22, 2012

In a top secret operation, 25-year-old Mohammed Ajmal Amir Kasab, the lone surviving gunman of the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks, was hanged in Pune's Yerwada Central Jail at 7.30 a.m. on Wednesday.

Fifteen minutes later, a terse phone call conveyed to the Maharashtra Home Department that Operation 'X' was "successfully completed." Police sources said Kasab was buried on the jail premises.

The execution comes five days before the fourth anniversary of the attacks that began on November 26, 2008, lasting nearly three days, and took the lives of 166 people. But if his execution brought some measure of closure for the victims' families, the Lashkar-e-Taiba masterminds of the attack in Pakistan continue to evade justice.

The events that unfolded before the hanging were kept a closely guarded secret too. Jail officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Kasab had offered prayers (namaz) before he was brought to the hangman. The final walk to the gallows in the jail is about 20 feet, and was covered in a minute, the sources said.

Around 10 people, including Jail Superintendent Yogesh Desai, a medical officer from the government-run Sassoon Hospital and an executive magistrate were present for the hanging.

Preparations, including the testing of the strength of the rope and mock hangings, were made a week before.

Mr. Desai told The Hindu that there was no designated hangman and a jail staffer covered Kasab's head with a customary black hood, then put and tightened the noose around his neck before pulling the lever, making the platform below give away. As per the process, the body was left hanging for half-an-hour, after which the medical officer declared him dead. He was buried before noon.

Official sources said 'X,' the codename, was set in motion on November 12, after President Pranab Mukherjee turned down Kasab's mercy petition on November 5.

Even within the State machinery, very few people knew about the operation, right from setting the date for the execution to bringing Kasab to Pune. It was reportedly overseen by Special Inspector-General (Law and Order) Deven Bharti and 16 handpicked officers, including Joint commissioner of Mumbai Police (Crime) Himanshu Roy and Inspector-General (Prisons) Meeran Chaddha Borwankar.

Union Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde signed the file and the communication reached the State government by November 8. The process was set in motion soon after. "Except Mr. Bharti's cell phone, the devices of the other 16 officers were switched off," a top official told The Hindu.

Kasab was shifted from Mumbai's Arthur Road Jail to Pune on November 19. Officials said he was taken on a special flight late at night and whisked off to the Yerwada jail. "He was escorted by senior officers of the Crime Branch, commandos of the Quick Response Team and officers of the Indo-Tibetan Border Police. The team reached the jail in the early hours of Monday morning," said the official. Few jail officials were aware of the identity of the prisoner.

Maharashtra Home Minister R.R. Patil said the date for execution was fixed by the State government on September 11 itself. "The jail manual was read out to him [Kasab] in Hindi and Urdu [and he was asked] whether he had any statement or will to make."

The last hanging took place in the State 17 years ago: Amrutlal Joshi was hanged on August 26, 1995 for murdering three members of the Sadarangani family in Mumbai's Khar suburb. Maharashtra's last designated hangman Arjun Jadhav had conducted the execution. Mr. Jadhav, who retired in 1996, had expressed the desire to hang Kasab. However, he died in September this year, aged 77.

Yerwada is one of the two jails in Maharashtra — the other being Nagpur Central Jail — which houses facilities for hanging. "Owing to the shorter distance from Mumbai, and the extreme security and secrecy involved, it was decided to execute Kasab in Pune," a top official said.

Mr. Patil said the State had spent more than Rs 1.47 crore on Kasab in the past four years. "This is [not counting] security expenses: the egg-shaped cell where he was housed or the security provided by the Indo-Tibetan Border Police, the cost of which is expected to be borne by the Central government."
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