When celebrated English architect Frederick William Stevens built Mumbai’s (then Bombay) Victoria Terminus to mark the golden jubilee of Queen Victoria in 1887, he would not have imagined that India’s busiest railway station would become the site of one of the country’s bloodiest terrorist attacks, 121 years later. One of the perpetrators of the crime was a baby-faced 21-year-old youth from Faridkot, a Pakistani village named after Sufi saint Baba Farid.
Mohammad Ajmal Kasab and nine other youngsters entered India as cold-blooded marauding terrorists and committed what is now known as “India’s 9/11”. The terrorists paired in twos and carried out 11 attacks across Mumbai, killing 166 and injuring more than 300. Kasab, the only terrorist to be captured alive, was born in a poor family in Pakistan’s Punjab province.
Son of a samosa-seller, Kasab was a typical village lad who studied till grade five and spent years fooling around before running away to Lahore at the age of 14. Years later, when he briefly returned to Faridkot just before the Mumbai attacks, it became clear to villagers that he had drifted into the world of crime.
Detachment with his family — father Amir Shahban Kasab, mother Nooree, sister Suraiyya and brother Munir — a poverty-stricken childhood and lack of education drove him into the arms of extremists.
When he entered India in an inflatable dinghy, Kasab, then 21, was a perfect terrorist with an automatic assault rifle in his hand, hand-grenades in the rucksack, raging hormones in his body and an ideology in his head that he was not clear about.
On that fateful night, Kasab and one of his partners in crime, Esmail Khan, trawled the gothic station after 9pm, killing 58 people, including eight policemen. Inside the main passenger hall, Kasab’s targets were plenty and random. He fired with devastating efficiency.
Horrified Indians first saw his face when news photographer Sebastian D’souza captured him toting an AK-47, sporting blue T-shirt and cargo pants. He became the face of the Mumbai terror attack and this picture was a key piece of evidence during his trial. Outside the railway station, Kasab wiped out the top layer of Mumbai crime branch and escaped in a police car. He met his nemesis when unarmed police inspector Tukaram Ombale caught up with him and held his gun. Kasab killed Ombale before he was caught by other cops near a beach adjoining Marine Drive.
Lodged in a bullet-proof cell with a connecting bomb-proof tunnel leading to a special court inside Mumbai’s Arthur Road jail, Kasab was known only by a number: C-7096. During his year-long trial, Kasab appeared dejected, indifferent and on occasions smiled at his lawyers and journalists. He was found guilty of all the 86 charges, including murder of seven people, conspiracy to kill 166 and waging war against India, a verdict confirmed by the nation’s highest court.
While his life inside the prison cell was relatively uneventful and the trial went on smoothly, barring a few hiccups, outside, Kasab was becoming a household name.
To Indians, he had become the nation’s most reviled terrorist. Indians loathed the fact that Kasab was turning out to be an expensive prisoner guarded by a 250-member team of elite Indo-Tibetan Border Police. Aghast at the millions spent on his security, India’s restless middle class demanded a swift execution and used his image to lampoon the ruling elite. In a recent campaign on social networking sites, some Indians paid tributes to mosquitoes for inflicting dengue on the terrorist and mocked at the prime minister for serving him biryani.
Kasab spent his last days resigned to the fate. He knew his execution was a matter of time. On a day when Mumbai was mourning the death of Hindutva leader Balasaheb Thackeray, Kasab was transferred to Pune’s Yerwada jail in a top-secret operation dubbed Operation X.
“Allah kasam, dobara aisi galti nahi karunga!” (I swear by God, won’t do such a thing again) were his last words.