An Indian judge on Thursday condemned to death the sole surviving gunman from the 2008 Mumbai siege after a year-long trial over the bloody attacks that traumatised the nation.
Judge M.L. Tahaliyani imposed the death penalty against Mohammed Ajmal Amir Kasab on four counts of murder, waging war against India and conspiracy and terrorism offences.
"He should be hanged by the neck until he is dead," he said. "I don't find any case for a lesser punishment than death in the case of waging war against India, murder and terrorist acts."
Kasab, 22, dressed in a traditional white tunic, sat with his head in his hands staring at the floor of the dock as the judge issued the sentence, three days after the school drop-out and former labourer's conviction on Monday.
Tahaliyani said the evidence showed "previous, meticulous and systematic planning" of the atrocity, which left 166 people dead and hundreds injured and led India to halt peace talks with its arch-rival Pakistan.
"Brutality was writ large," he added, and the offences were "of exceptional depravity." Branded a "killing machine" and "cruelty incarnate" by the prosecution, Kasab was the only gunman caught alive in the 60-hour assault by 10 Islamists on hotels, a railway station, a restaurant and Jewish centre.
An image of him carrying a powerful AK-47 assault rifle and backpack at Mumbai's main railway station, where he and an accomplice killed 52 people, has become a defining image of the atrocity.
Observers say the death penalty is likely to trigger a lengthy, possibly open-ended, appeal through the Indian courts.
The government officially supports capital punishment for what the Supreme Court in New Delhi has called the "rarest of rare" cases but no execution has been carried out since 2004 and only two since 1998.
Many pleas for clemency to the president are still pending, including ones from the killers of former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, who was assassinated in 1991, and a Kashmiri separatist who attacked India's parliament in 2001.
The case will automatically pass to the Mumbai High Court, which will review the sentence, and Kasab can then appeal to the Supreme Court and ultimately ask for clemency from the president.
"I have not yet spoken to Kasab to discuss a future course of action." defence lawyer K.P. Pawar told reporters afterwards. Outside the court, a crowd chanted "Victory to India", while public prosecutor Ujjwal Nikam flashed victory signs to the media and brandished a dossier showing Kasab behind a image of a giant noose.
"In light of the offences Kasab has committed, the sentence sends out a message to those who want to wage war against India," Foreign Minister S.M.Krishna told reporters in reaction.
New Delhi, which suspended peace talks with Islamabad after the attacks, wants Pakistan to convict the alleged masterminds of the assault in the banned group Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT). The head of the group, Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi, and key operative Zarar Shah are currently on trial in Pakistan.
India also blames Hafiz Saeed, head of the Jamaat-ud-Dawa charity, which is seen as a front for the LeT. "We certainly will keep engaging Pakistan in the light of the sentence," Krishna added.
Most of the families of the victims have long called for Kasab's execution, and the clamour for him to be sent to the gallows grew louder after Monday's widely expected guilty verdict.
"I am happy, a chapter has closed for me," said a tearful Sevanti Parekh, who lost his son and daughter-in-law in the attacks. "But I fear for our generation and the next generation."
Since the beginning of Kasab's trial, new evidence has come to light about the planning of the atrocity, the psychological impact of which is often compared in India to the September 11, 2001 attacks on New York and Washington.
A 49-year-old Pakistani-American, David Headley, was arrested in Chicago last year and has since admitted to spending two years casing out the capital of the Bollywood film industry and financial centre.
Kasab first pleaded not guilty last April when the trial began but in July made a shock confession and urged the court to hang him. He then reverted to his initial denial in December and said he had been framed by police after coming to Mumbai "to see cinema".