MUMBAI, India – The young Pakistani gunman who confessed to his role in the Mumbai attacks says he would rather be hanged in this world than face "God's punishment" in the next.
The Indian court trying Ajmal Kasab has yet to accept his confession and guilty plea for taking part in one of the worst terrorist attacks in Indian history — three days of carnage in November that left 166 people dead. Judge M.L. Tahiliyani said he would decide Thursday whether to accept the confession, which describes in detail Kasab's links with a shadowy but well-organized group in Pakistan.
"Whatever I have done, I have done in this world. It would be better to be punished in this world. It would be better than God's punishment. That's why I have pleaded guilty," Kasab told the court Wednesday.
Kasab unexpectedly confessed Monday to taking part on the first day of the attacks in downtown Mumbai, India's financial and entertainment capital. His statement bolsters India's charges that terrorist groups in neighboring Pakistan were behind the well-planned attack, and that it is not doing enough to clamp down on them.
"If I am hanged for this, I am not bothered," he said. "I don't want any mercy from the court. I understand the implications of my accepting the crime."
Chief Prosecutor Ujjwal Nikam spent Wednesday poking holes in Kasab's confession, saying it is neither complete nor accurate. He maintains that Kasab is trying to minimize his role in the carnage to avoid the death penalty and protect his alleged coconspirators in Pakistan.
Kasab admitted in his statement Monday that he sprayed gunfire into the crowd at Mumbai's main train station, and described in detail a network of training camps and safe houses across Pakistan, revealing the names of four men he said were his handlers.
He said he'd been swept up into Islamist militancy because he was poor and disaffected — a far less fiery claim than he made before a judge in February, when he said he wanted to assault India in order to free the divided region of Kashmir where Muslim militants are fighting for independence. He has since recanted the February statement, saying it was obtained under duress.
Kasab initially pleaded not guilty to 86 charges including murder and waging war against India, which is punishable by up to death. He said he made the abrupt about-face because the Pakistani government acknowledged he was a national and would soon begin legal proceedings against the alleged masterminds of the attack.
On Monday, Kasab also denied that he'd killed four Mumbai policemen whose high-profile deaths remain touchstones of grief and anger in India.
The widow of one of them, anti-terrorist squad chief Hemant Karkare, told India's NDTV Wednesday that Kasab should be hanged publicly. "If he will get punishment, we will get some justice," she said.
Pakistan's Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi told The Associated Press Wednesday that Islamabad was waiting for copies of the confession, but said it would not impede the ongoing effort at dialogue between the two nuclear-armed neighbors.
Qureshi spoke on the sidelines of a regional security conference in Phuket, Thailand.
The court has issued arrest warrants for 22 Pakistanis accused of conspiring in the attack, including Hafiz Mohammed Saeed, founder of the Pakistan-based Islamist militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba, which Kasab says trained him. Saeed was released from house arrest in June by a Pakistani court because of insufficient evidence, sparking outrage in India.
Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman Malik has said the country's authorities are still hunting down a dozen suspects in the attack, but only have five men in custody.
One of them, Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi — who Kasab identified in his confession — has been charged with masterminding the attacks, while the other four are suspected of acting as facilitators, managing funds and hide-outs.
Pretrial hearings have begun at a prison court in Rawalpindi, Pakistan, and the defendants are expected to enter their pleas in the coming weeks.
Nikam said the Rawalpindi court can legally draw on evidence from the Mumbai trial, raising the possibility that Kasab's confession could also affect the outcome of that case.
Pakistani lawyers, however, were divided on that.
"If one is confessing his role in a crime and also implicating others in his statement, that will have an impact on the trial," said Malik Rabnawaz Noon, the prosecutor in Rawalpindi case.
But Shahbaz Rajput, a defense lawyer, said the statement can be deemed valid in Pakistan only if Kasab appears for cross-examination before his court.