Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Lawyer for Mumbai attack suspect dismissed

The state-appointed lawyer for the Pakistani suspect charged in last year's Mumbai terror attacks was barred from representing him Wednesday because of a conflict of interest, a special judge said moments before the trial was to begin.

Trial judge M.L. Tahiliyani said lawyer Anjali Waghmare had failed to disclose that she had also represented a witness injured in the attacks in a compensation claim case.

Tahiliyani said he would appoint a new lawyer for the suspect, Mohammed Ajmal Kasab, but the development would delay the opening of the much-anticipated trial.

"I don't want to appoint a junior or raw lawyer for him," he said.

Police say Kasab was the only gunman captured during the November attacks in Mumbai, which left 164 people dead. He could face the death penalty if he is convicted of 12 criminal counts, including murder and waging war against India.

Kasab stood barefoot in the courtroom, dressed in a gray T-shirt and blue Adidas pants, his hair shaggy and his beard scruffy. In his first public appearance, he chatted and chuckled with his co-defendants, Faheem Ansari and Sabauddin Ahmed, both Indian nationals charged with helping plot the attacks.

Kasab also asked judge Tahiliyani to get him a Pakistani lawyer, to which the judge replied that a similar request from him had already been forwarded to the Pakistani consulate without any reply.

"Please try one more time," Kasab asked Tahiliyani, to which the judge replied, "OK."

The court will meet Thursday morning to decide on Kasab's legal defense, the judge said.

Preparations have been made for the trial to begin in a special bombproof courtroom set up in the central Mumbai jail where Kasab is being held.

A sea of khaki-clad police and special forces wielding assault rifles surrounded the courthouse Wednesday in an unprecedented show of security. Reporters covering the trial were fingerprinted, issued two special passes, searched three times — and offered pens because they were not allowed to bring their own.

The trial has already faced several delays as security arrangements were made.

India has blamed the Mumbai attacks on Lashkar-e-Taiba, an Islamist militant group widely believed to have been created by Pakistani intelligence agencies in the 1980s to fight Indian rule in the divided Kashmir region.

Pakistani officials have acknowledged that the attacks were partly plotted on their soil and announced criminal proceedings against eight suspects. They have also acknowledged that Kasab is a Pakistani national.

Indian police have also filed charges against two Indian citizens suspected of aiding the attackers.

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