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Tue 21 Jul 2009 07:46 AM

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Mumbai gunman makes surprise guilty plea

Lone Pakistani gunman admits his role in the three-day rampage that killed 166 people.

The lone surviving gunman from last year's Mumbai attacks made a surprise guilty plea on Monday, admitting his role in the three-day rampage that killed 166 and raised tensions between India and Pakistan.

Pakistani citizen Mohammad Ajmal Kasab, 21, had been charged with 86 separate offences including murder and waging war against India in the November 26-28 assault.

During a routine interrogation of witnesses on Monday, Kasab got up and told the Mumbai court: "I have something to say. I want to confess," prosecutor Ujjwal Nikam told reporters.

He recorded a three-hour confession recounting his actions, officials said.

"He has confessed to his role and the fact that he was involved in the attacks that killed so many people ... the planning and the execution," lead police investigator Rakesh Maria told Reuters.

Kasab, who had pleaded not guilty in May, now faces a possible death sentence.

The only one of the 10 gunmen captured alive during the coordinated attacks on targets including two luxury hotels, a Jewish centre and the train station, Kasab is among 38 charged in the attack. India says most of the accused are in Pakistan.

Kasab, who says he is from Faridkot in Pakistan, became the physical embodiment of India's contention that its neighbouring rival had let its soil be used to plan and launch the attacks. That led Delhi to break off five-year peace talks with Pakistan.

Closed-circuit video footage caught during the siege of India's financial and entertainment capital showed Kasab carrying an AK-47 assault rifle in Mumbai's main train station.

Nikam said he was shocked, and suspicious of Kasab's actions.

"There were some contradictory details from the original confession and there are some things we will need to clarify too with the court, like why he made this confession today and what is the reason behind his U-turn," Nikam told reporters.

Kasab confessed to police shortly after capture, but later said he was coerced.

Among his new statements on Tuesday was that an Indian he identified as Abu Jundal had taught him and his accomplices Hindi before the attack. He gave no other details. In the past India has bristled at suggestions of a local hand in Mumbai.

Nikam called that new name "a ploy to divert the court's attention". He said police would nonetheless investigate.

Defence attorney Abbas Kazmi made no statement in court and declined to speak to reporters. Both sides were expected to make submissions about the confession on Tuesday, Judge M.L. Pahilyani told reporters.

Pakistan's foreign ministry had no immediate comment.

Defence Minister Chaudhry Ahmed Mukhtar told India's CNN-IBN television that it would "help Pakistan to get hold of all those people who are involved in these criminal activities".

However, he added Kasab's changing story could raise credibility issues if his testimony was used in Pakistani courts.

"I don't think that you are in a position to crack down on people against the evidence provided by one person, somebody who is behind bars. This statement, I don't know how much one can value that in the court of law," Mukhtar said.

Despite an Indian-Pakistani joint statement promising greater counterterrorism cooperation, New Delhi has remained adamant that Pakistan must take concrete action against those responsible for Mumbai and ensure its soil is never used to attack India again.

Uday Bhaskar, director of the New Delhi-based National Maritime Foundation think-tank, said the guilty plea would support Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari's contention that his nation must confront the truth about its militant ties.

"It will strengthen the hands of that part of Pakistan which is trying to confront its own internal contradictions," Bhaskar said. "This is part of the truth."

The two countries have fought three wars since independence from Britain in 1947, two over the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir.

India says Pakistani security agencies nurtured militant groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), which India blames for the Mumbai attacks. Islamabad denies state involvement, has detained some suspects and pledged to prosecute those responsible.

Kasab's guilty plea came as US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met Indian Prime Minister Manmohah Singh, where a US official said Indo-Pakistani relations were sure to be discussed privately.

Asked about Kasab's plea, US State Department spokesman Ian Kelly declined to comment. (Reuters)

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