An Indian court that heard a stunning confession from the lone surviving gunman in the Mumbai attacks put a gag order on his latest testimony — a message to his handlers in Pakistan and a description of the indoctrination he received before coming to India.
It is a rare moment of silence in what has been one of the best documented terror attacks in history, with video footage, cell phone intercepts, photographs, and witness accounts playing across the media for months.
The judge on Tuesday deferred a decision on whether to accept Ajmal Kasab's unexpected confession, which has complicated the already onerous task of defending a man whose image — he was photographed toting a gun and striding through Mumbai's main train station — quickly became an emblem of the attack.
Kasab, a Pakistani on trial in a special court, caught prosecution and defense lawyers by surprise Monday when he suddenly told the judge he wanted to plead guilty to the November attacks that left 166 people dead.
"All of a sudden my client, Ajmal Kasab, has pleaded guilty and given a thorough account before the court. It has become very difficult for me," his defense lawyer Abbas Kazmi told the Associated Press Tuesday.
"But if tomorrow the court decides the trial is to go on, then I will have to go on," he added.
Lawyer alleges insufficient access
Kazmi, who was appointed at the last minute after Kasab's original lawyer was dismissed, said he has not been granted sufficient access to his client nor sufficient time to wade through the 12,000 page case file to prepare a defense.
"I have not been able to get proper instruction from him on the case," Kazmi said. "I get 10 to 12 minutes every few days. That's under the watchful eye of all the guards. Ten to 15 police guards are hovering around us. It is not a peaceful surroundings to take legal instruction."
He said Kasab has grown depressed and "mentally frustrated" after months of solitary confinement.
Kasab said Monday that he confessed after months of denials because the Pakistani government has acknowledged that he — and two of the other attackers — were Pakistani citizens and had begun legal proceedings against five men who allegedly masterminded the attack on Mumbai.
Kasab, who does not have access to newspapers or television in prison, told the court Tuesday that he heard about the developments from his guards.
"Perhaps a picture was created that now there is no hope. Even Pakistan has disowned you. He must have been expecting Pakistan to say no, Kasab is an innocent man. Now Pakistan said yes, our own people were involved," Kazmi said.
In his statements to the court Monday and Tuesday, Kasab takes responsibility for much of the carnage during the three-day siege last November, confirming prosecution evidence, including video footage, guns, bombs, identity cards, witness testimony, and maps.
Kasab has signed each page of the court's record of his confession, a copy of which was obtained by the Associated Press.
Recruited by a Pakistani militant group
As part of his confession, he said he was recruited by a Pakistani militant group while he was looking for training to become a professional robber. He also described how he sprayed automatic gunfire at commuters at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus railway station while a comrade hurled grenades during one of India's worst terrorist acts.
Continuing his testimony Tuesday, Kasab told the court his mandate was "to open fire at CST and hold people hostage on the upper floor."
"We were also directed to fire at the persons who came to free hostages," he said.
Kasab described the political and religious indoctrination he said he received from his handlers in Pakistan, but Judge M.L. Tahiliyani issued an order forbidding journalists from reporting his comments, saying it was not in the interest of communal harmony.
Religious friction is not uncommon
Religious friction is not uncommon here, and government officials as well as citizen groups worked hard to ensure that tensions between Hindus and Muslims did not erupt into violence after the November attack.
The judge also banned reporting of Kasab's message to his handlers.
Prosecutor Nikam said violations of the court's order would be punishable by imprisonment of up to three years.
Kasab faces 86 charges, including murder and waging war against India, which is punishable by death or life in prison. Two Indians, Fahim Ansari and Ahmed Sabauddin, are also on trial for allegedly providing maps that helped facilitate the attack.
Attack strained relations
The confession, which details his training in Pakistan and which Kasab says was made voluntarily, gives strength to India's charges that terrorist groups in neighboring Pakistan were behind the well-planned attack, and that Islamabad is not doing enough to clamp down on them.
The attack severely strained relations and put the brakes on a peace process between the nuclear-armed enemies.
The Press Trust of India reported Tuesday that a copy of Kasab's confession would be given to a court in Rawalpindi, Pakistan which is now trying five alleged Lashkar operatives who have denied charges that they played a role in the Mumbai attack. The news agency did not name its sources.
Kasab said Monday that four men — some of them known leaders of the Pakistan-based Islamic extremist group Lashkar-e-Taiba — sent him and other fellow attackers to Mumbai from Karachi, Pakistan.
After spending six weeks sequestered in a safe house in Pakistan, where they were sternly warned not to disobey orders, they traveled by boat to Mumbai. Arriving Nov. 26, they unleashed three days of mayhem. The 10 gunmen, armed with automatic rifles and grenades, split into pairs and killed people at the railway station, a Jewish center, a hospital and two five-star hotels.
Kasab and Abu Ismail took a taxi to the railway station where they killed more than 50 people.
"I was in front of Abu Ismail who had taken such a position that no one could see him," Kasab told the court Monday. "We both fired, Abu Ismail and I. We fired on the public," he said.
Had intended to become robber
From the railway station, the two went to Cama hospital. A few more were killed there. The pair then went to Chowpatty beach in a hijacked vehicle where Ismail was killed and Kasab was captured after a shootout with police.
Kasab was treated for wounds and has since been held in solitary confinement in Mumbai's Arthur Road Jail, where the trial is being conducted.
As part of the confession, he told how he became involved with Lashkar-e-Taiba. He said he had become unhappy with his low wages as a shop assistant in the Pakistani town of Jhelum and left for Rawalpindi with the intention of becoming a professional robber.
While attending a festival in Rawalpindi, he and a friend decided to seek out the mujahedeen, who they thought could help train them as bandits. They went to a local bazaar and were directed to the local mujahedeen office, he said.