- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 15, 2009

MUMBAI, INDIA (AP) - The first trial in the Mumbai terrorist attacks was abruptly adjourned Wednesday, only an hour after police pulled a large cloth off the head of the defendant to reveal the blinking, scruffy-bearded Pakistani police say is the lone surviving gunman.

The presiding judge ordered the much-anticipated proceedings delayed after dismissing the defense lawyer for suspect Mohammed Ajmal Kasab for a conflict of interest.

Indian authorities have gone to great lengths to ensure that the trial proceeds swiftly, safely and fairly, but Wednesday’s proceedings suggest that Kasab _ who could face the death penalty _ will not be exempt from the notoriously slow wheels of Indian justice.

Trial judge M.L. Tahiliyani said legal aid lawyer Anjali Waghmare failed to disclose that she had agreed to represent a victim in a compensation claim case who is also a witness against Kasab.

Tahiliyani said he would appoint a new defense lawyer as soon as possible, but the development means the prosecutor likely won’t deliver his opening remarks until Friday at the earliest.

The trial had already been pushed back nine days, as police scrambled to put the finishing touches on a special, bombproof courtroom in the central Mumbai jail where Kasab is being held.

Kasab is charged with 12 criminal counts, including murder and waging war against India.

In the aftermath of the violence _ and even months later _ different agencies have provided different death tolls. But the prosecutors’ filing says Kasab and nine other gunmen, who were killed during the siege, are responsible for the deaths of 166 people and the injury of 304 more.

Court officials say they hope Kasab’s case will be finished in six months to a year.

If they’re right, it would be a record.

The trial in India’s deadliest terror attack, the 1993 Mumbai bombings that killed 257 people, took 14 years to complete.

Even bankruptcy litigation takes ten years, on average, to resolve.

Lawyers have been loathe to take up Kasab’s case, citing low pay and high risk.

Waghmare was assigned special police protection after a mob of Hindu nationalists hurled stones and insults at her house.

Legal aid lawyers like Waghmare make only 900 rupees ($18.45) per case, two other lawyers said.

Judge Tahiliyani said he would ask the state to make a special exception and pay Kasab’s lawyer more to help ensure the quality of his defense.

“Considering the magnitude of the case, I don’t want it to be a paper appointment. It should be effective assistance,” Tahiliyani said.

After Waghmare was dismissed, Kasab 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.

Before police unveiled Kasab at court Wednesday, he had not been seen in public since November, when he was photographed striding through Mumbai’s Chhatrapati Shivaji train station in gray cargo pants, swinging an assault rifle. It became an iconic image of the three-day siege.

On Wednesday, Kasab wore a loose gray T-shirt and navy Adidas pants.

Police took his rubber flip-flops away moments after he entered the courtroom. He spent the morning slouched on a wooden bench, barefoot, chatting and chuckling with his two co-defendants, Faheem Ansari and Sabauddin Ahmed.

Both co-defendants are Indian nationals charged with helping plot the attacks. Their lawyer, Syed Ejaz, maintains that both are innocent.

A sea of police and special forces wielding assault rifles surrounded the courthouse Wednesday in an unprecedented show of security.

Police spent weeks preparing special scannable entry passes for the trial, fingerprinting and photographing journalists.

At the prison entrance, two dozen policemen made painstaking notes in handwritten ledgers and confiscated cameras, cell phones and water. They handed out ball point pens to reporters, who were asked to surrender their own.

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.

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