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Gunman pleads guilty in Mumbai massacre

MUMBAI, India — The lone surviving gunman in the Mumbai attacks made a surprise confession at his trial Monday, saying he was recruited by a militant group inside Pakistan after he left a low-paying job and went looking for training to become a professional robber.

The confession bolstered India's charges that terrorist groups in neighboring Pakistan were behind the well-planned attack in November and that Pakistan is not doing enough to clamp down on them. The attack in which 166 people died severely strained relations and put the brakes on a peace process between the nuclear-armed enemies.

As part of the confession, Ajmal Kasab described how he sprayed automatic gunfire at commuters while a comrade hurled grenades inside a railway station during one of India's worst terrorist acts.

"I was in front of Abu Ismail who had taken such a position that no one could see him," Kasab told the court. "We both fired, Abu Ismail and I. We fired on the public," he said, speaking in Hindi.

Kasab, a Pakistani who had denied a role in the rampage, reversed himself without warning, shocking even his lawyer.

In a calmly delivered statement, Kasab described how the attackers were sent from Karachi, Pakistan, by four men — some of them known leaders with the Pakistan-based Islamic extremist group Lashkar-e-Taiba.

They traveled by boat, arriving Nov. 26 in Mumbai, where they unleashed three days of mayhem. The 10 gunmen, armed with automatic rifles and grenades, split into pairs and killed people at a railway station, a Jewish center, a hospital and two five-star hotels, including the Taj Mahal.

Seema Desai, an analyst at the Eurasia Group in London, said Kasab's assertions could "increase tensions between India and Pakistan."

"Most likely Pakistan will not give his statements much credence and will question the circumstances under which he changed his story," she said.

Kasab faces the death penalty if convicted on the charges of murder and waging war against the country.

As the 66th day of Kasab's trial started Monday morning, he stood up just as a prosecution witness was to take the stand, and addressed the judge.

"Sir, I plead guilty to my crime," said Kasab, 21, triggering a collective gasp in the courtroom.

After a debate on the legality of such a confession, Kasab's statement was recorded, and the judge said he would have Kasab sign each page of the document, which would be reviewed by his lawyer, formally reversing his plea from innocent to guilty.

Asked by Judge M.L. Tahiliyani why he confessed now, Kasab said it was because the Pakistani government recently acknowledged he was a Pakistani citizen, dealing a blow to his defense.

"If Pakistan has accepted me as its citizen, then end this case and punish me for my crime," he said. "My request is that we end the trial and I be sentenced."

Tahiliyani said the trial will resume today.

Gunman pleads guilty in Mumbai massacre 07/20/09 [Last modified: Monday, July 20, 2009 11:06pm]
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