Kasab's village slams Mumbai conviction

Last Updated: Mon, May 03, 2010 11:06 hrs

Residents of the home town of the surviving gunman of the Mumbai massacre on Monday angrily denounced his conviction as a travesty of justice.

The remote town of Faridkot in the Pakistani farming belt of Punjab province has become notorious as the home of Mohammed Ajmal Amir Kasab, convicted of taking part in the bloodbath in November 2008 that killed 166 people in Mumbai.

On Monday, as the 22-year-old Pakistani was pronounced guilty of murder and waging war against India, people in his home town about 26 kilometres (16 miles) from the Indian border sat glued to the breaking news on TV.

"Why was there no equal sentence for all the culprits and why has only Ajmal been declared a criminal," said Muhammad Iqbal, a farmer in his late 50s who reacted with anger after two Indian suspects were acquitted.

"This is all against Pakistan. Ajmal is a child and he cannot commit this incident," he told AFP.

Another farmer, Muhammad Yasin, 46, condemned the verdict after anxiously waiting for his TV to splutter back into life after a power cut.

"It is discriminatory and it would be better to hand him over to Pakistan," he said. "Neither should he be given the death sentence."

With Faridkot's wheat harvest in full swing, workers loading grain into vehicles to a din of folk music said they were sympathetic to Kasab's "good intentions" against an "enemy" country.

The previous day, a hawker distributed a weekly newspaper published by Jamaat-ud-Dawa, which Indian and US officials believe is a front for the Lashkar-e-Taiba militant group blamed for the Mumbai attacks.

Around 10,000 people live in the town. Most of the population are labourers and small farmers. Few are literate.

"Are they talking about our Ajmal?" 45-year-old Noor Ahmed asked, interrupting a discussion on how residents feel about the Indian sentencing.

"No. No. We don't know him," he said, sitting on a dirty cot in a small brick and clay room on the banks of Faridkot's canal.

"But we have sympathies for him being Muslim."

Residents said they would denounce any sentence India hands down to Kasab.

"Look, don't blame him. There is nothing wrong if he did it with good intentions against an infidel country like India," said Amjad Ali, a 60-year-old farmer with white hair.

"India should forgive him and set him free to improve relations with Pakistan," he added.

Bakhat Yar, 42, a farmer wearing a traditional grey shalwar khamis, said he believed Kasab's father left the village years ago.

"We have never seen this boy in the village. Only his grandfather's haveli (house) is here," he said. "They have left this place, I guess."

Yar first said that Kasab should be found guilty and sentenced, then later retracted his remarks.

"India should not give him the death sentence. After all, he is Muslim and if he did it against India, look what our neighbour India is doing.

"India is doing bomb blasts in Pakistan and it has also blocked Pakistan's water," he said -- echoing the beliefs of many in Pakistan that its arch-rival is behind suicide attacks in the country and siphoning off its water resources.

One student claimed Kasab was a childhood friend who was in a group that used to swim in Faridkot's polluted canal and liked to throw other boys into the water. He believes Kasab was brainwashed.

"Definitely, the (Mumbai) incident created a bad impression for Pakistan and especially Faridkot," the student said.

He called on the massacre's masterminds to be punished, and said it would be better if India extradited Kasab to Pakistan.

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