India parliament attack plotter hanged
NEW DELHI, India - A Kashmiri separatist was executed on Saturday, February 9, in New Delhi over his role in a deadly attack on the Indian parliament in 2001 -- triggering protests on both sides of the border in disputed Kashmir.
Hundreds of demonstrators rallied near the family home of Mohammed Afzal Guru in northern Indian Kashmir hours after authorities said he had been hanged, while similar protests were held across the frontier on the Pakistani side.
Guru, 43, was hanged at New Delhi's Tihar Jail after Indian President Pranab Mukherjee rejected a mercy appeal. He had been found guilty of conspiring with and sheltering the militants who attacked the parliament in December 2001 -- an event that brought nuclear-armed India and Pakistan to the brink of war.
"Afzal Guru was hanged at 8:00 am. All legal procedures were followed," Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde told reporters.
India's main opposition party welcomed the execution, but one of Guru's co-accused who was later cleared said it was a travesty of justice and the New York-based Human Rights Watch described it as "inhumane."
India says the death penalty is reserved for the "rarest of rare" cases and the execution came after the government hanged the sole surviving gunman from the 2008 Mumbai attacks, Pakistan-born Mohammed Ajmal Kasab, in November last year.
Fearing a backlash over the execution of the one-time fruit merchant on Saturday, authorities imposed a heavy curfew in major populated areas of Indian Kashmir. A separatist conflict in the divided Himalayan region has claimed up to 100,000 lives.
Police said half a dozen people were injured in the clashes in Kashmir and that they had fired into the air to disperse demonstrators. They also cut off cable television and mobile Internet lines.
Guru was arrested after 5 Islamist militants stormed the parliament in New Delhi on Dec 13, 2001, killing 8 policemen and a gardener before security forces shot them dead. A journalist who was wounded died months later.
India alleged the militants behind the attack were supported by Pakistani intelligence, leading the neighbors to deploy an estimated one million troops on their borders, leading to a tense 8-month standoff.
India's main opposition, the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, welcomed the execution and said the "world could see India is committed (to) the fight against terror."
But the hanging drew bitter criticism from Muslim-majority Kashmir where leading separatist leader Mirwaiz Umar Farooq announced a 4-day shutdown of the scenic region in protest.
"This execution will definitely strengthen our resolve and add a new chapter to the freedom struggle," said Farooq, chief priest at Kashmir's main mosque.
Guru, who had insisted he was innocent and said he wanted to see his teenage son grow up, had been "framed," Farooq added.
Farooq and another leading separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani were taken into preventive custody, a form of detention used frequently by Indian authorities to maintain law and order.
One of Guru's co-accused, S.A.R. Geelani, a college teacher, who was also sentenced to death but later cleared, said Guru never received a fair trial.
He added that Guru's family were not informed he had been executed but the government said they had been notified by express mail.
A group of lawyers who had campaigned for Guru's release said he had been found guilty on the basis of "fabricated evidence" and was denied proper legal representation in court.
Supreme Court advocate Kamini Jaiswal told CNN-IBN television that the execution was driven by the government's desire to appear tough on militancy with 2014 polls looming and said Guru's conviction was based just "on circumstantial evidence."
Guru's family said they were asking authorities to be allowed to perform his last rites inside the prison and also to be given the body.
"We have written a letter to the deputy commissioner of Baramulla district demanding Afzal's body," his cousin, Yasin Guru, told AFP. - Rappler.com