in New Delhi and Azamgarh
|Confusion prevails in India’s internal security establishment after the Delhi blasts.|
In Jamia Nagar, a day after the police encounter of September 19.
“IT does not require supreme deductive skills to understand that the Indian internal security establishment is in a state of confusion vis-a-vis investigation’s into the terrorist blasts. Over many years, the level of success in terms of prosecution has been very limited in cases relating to terrorist incidents and the pressures from the political establishment has increased continuously on account of this. Various segments of the Indian police system as well as the police departments in different States seem to have got into an indecorous competition amongst themselves in their attempts to deal with the political pressure. The country has been presented with a ludicrous exhibition of the same in recent days. It is time that the Union Home Ministry took serious note of this and came up with a detailed analysis of the failures and foibles in order to evolve effective guidelines that would streamline the functioning of the internal security establishment.” This is how K.S. Subramanian, former Indian Police Service (IPS) officer and author of Political Violence and the Police in India, responded to queries on the Delhi blasts of September 13 and 27.
The point made by the former Intelligence Bureau (IB) officer has been underscored by a number of happenings in the last three weeks of September. Six days after the September 13 blasts, the Delhi Police and the Special Cell for anti-terrorist operations killed two suspected extremists in the Jamia Nagar area of Delhi. A much decorated officer of the Delhi Police, Mohan Chand Sharma, was also killed in the operation. A number of alleged fellow operatives of the slain terrorists were either arrested or taken into custody on September 19 and the following days. Senior Delhi Police officers, including Joint Commissioner of Police Karnail Singh, declared that with this operation the top leadership of the Indian Mujahideen (I.M.) – which claimed responsibility for the September 13 blasts – had been eliminated and deactivated.
Clearly, the Delhi Police presented the operation as a major breakthrough that would help improve the security situation in the national capital and in other parts of the country. However, within a week, a “medium-intensity” bomb killed two people and injured 25 in Delhi’s Mehrauli Sarai area. Though no terrorist organisation claimed responsibility for the incident, it was clear that the assurance of public safety that the Delhi Police sought to provide after the Jamia Nagar operation did not have much merit.Different Versions
But even before this, many claims made by the Delhi Police in connection with the Jamia Nagar operations had been challenged at several levels. A number of human rights organisations and social activists question the very integrity of the operation, while police departments of Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra have taken positions, in terms of investigation details, that conflict with the claims of the Delhi Police. Different State police departments have identified different personalities as the chief of the I.M. Their versions have created a number of masterminds for the same terrorist attack.
Central to the police claims on the Jamia Nagar operation was the assertion that the two slain suspected militants – Mohammed Atif Ameen and Mohammed Sajid – were part of the top leadership of the I.M. Atif was identified by the Delhi Police as the chief of the I.M., which planned and executed not only the September 13 blasts in Delhi but also three other blasts in different parts of the country in the past 10 months. These were the Uttar Pradesh court blasts of November 2007, the Jaipur blasts of May 2008 and the Ahmedabad blasts of July 2008.
The Delhi Police briefing to the media was that Atif and others who were closeted at L-18, Batla House, Jamia Nagar, had been confronted by the police team, leading to the shoot-out. The police claimed to have arrested another suspected militant, Mohammed Saif, during the operation, while two others had managed to run away. In the days following the operation, the Delhi Police and the Special Cell arrested many suspected members of the Atif Ameen-led terrorist module. These included Saquib Nisaar, Zia ur Rehman and Mohammad Shakeel of the Jamia Millia Islamia, a Central university.
A team of lawyers, human rights activists, students and academics, led by the Janhastakshep Campaign against Fascist Designs and the People’s Union for Democratic Rights (PUDR), that went on a fact-finding mission to Jamia Nagar has questioned many of these postulates put forward by the Delhi Police. The team, consisting of well-known lawyers Prashant Bhushan and N.D. Pancholi and Professor N.K. Bhattacharya, pointed out in a letter to Union Home Minister Shivraj Patil that there were several discrepancies in the police version of the events.
Investigators at the site of the bomb explosion in Mehrauli on September 27.
To start with, Batla House, the scene of the “encounter”, is a four-storey building with a single entrance and stairwell, which virtually makes it impossible for anyone to escape, especially after the police have surrounded it. This has raised suspicions about the police version that terrorists managed to escape during the operation.
At a press conference on September 26, two days after sending the letter to the Home Minister, the fact-finding team also raised the question why Sharma was not wearing a bullet-proof jacket despite being a veteran of many counter-terrorist operations. Many residents of Jamia Nagar, who spoke to Frontline on condition of anonymity, raised doubts as to whether there was any firing at all from the side of the suspected terrorists.
The fact-finding team also pointed out that Atif, the alleged I.M. chief, had submitted his correct details to the police in a tenant verification form received by the local police on August 21 and that all these actions were quite unlike that of a terrorist mastermind. It said the statements of the Delhi Police branding the tenant verification form as forged was not credible since the caretaker of Batla House, Rahman, had handed over copies of it to the media a couple of hours after the incident. “There appears no reason for Rahman to have forged such a form and kept it with him in advance, and there was certainly no time for him to have forged the papers and handed them to the media soon after the incident,” the letter said.
The team also pointed out that Saquib Nisaar, whom the police described as the person who provided logistical support to I.M. operatives for the July 26 Ahmedabad blasts, was actually taking an MBA examination between July 23 and 28. Saquib is a gold medal-winning student. Saquib, along with Zia ur Rehman and Mohammad Shakeel, had given interviews to TV channels and had spoken to the press fearlessly after the September 19 operation, displaying transparent behaviour not normally associated with terrorists, it observed.
The team also said that an atmosphere of terror had been created in and around Jamia Nagar as many people of the area are picked up and harassed routinely. It demanded a judicial inquiry that would take all these questions into account.
Meanwhile, Jamia Millia Islamia has declared it will offer legal aid to students arrested for suspected terror links, with the express clarification that it is not defending any activity the students may have been involved in. The academic and executive councils of the university have formed a legal aid committee and a students’ relief committee to raise funds and provide legal aid to the students.Pain and anger
Atif and almost all the young men arrested from Jamia Nagar hail from the villages of Sanjarpur and Saraimeer in Azamgarh district of Uttar Pradesh. Highlighting this, security agencies have already termed Azamgarh the “breeding ground of terror”. The overwhelming reaction in these villages to the Jamia Nagar incidents is one of pain and anger (see separate story on page 30).
The residents of Sanjarpur and Saraimeer see the killing of Atif and Sajid as cold-blooded murder and the arrest of other youngsters, branding them as terrorists, as a ploy to cover up the failure of the security agencies in unravelling and containing the real terrorists. The dominant opinion in these Muslim-dominated villages is that they are being persecuted because they are soft targets.
The objections raised by civilian groups and common people against the claims of the Delhi Police and the Special Cell focus essentially on the methods and procedures of investigation and human rights issues, but the questions raised by the police departments of other States challenge a large number of conclusions derived by the Delhi team. In fact, the assertions made by the police departments of different States have become such a babel of claims and counter-claims that even seasoned observers fail to understand how the internal security establishment is advancing its anti-terrorist plans and programmes.
The Mumbai Police challenged squarely the Delhi Police’s description of Atif Ameen as the chief of the I.M. On September 24, five days after the Jamia Nagar operation, it claimed to have identified the real I.M. mastermind of the terrorist strikes across India since 2005. Mumbai Police Commissioner Hassan Gafoor said that Mohammad Sadiq Shaikh, arrested by it along with four other I.M. operatives, was the one who controlled Atif. Referring directly to the Delhi Police claim that Atif was the mastermind of the Jaipur, Gujarat and Delhi blasts, Gafoor pointedly said that “he was just the operations guy”. He asserted that the five men his department had arrested had not only planned the Delhi blasts of September 13 but were behind every blast in the country since 2005.
The claim of the Mumbai Police Commissioner, however, was not undermining the theory advanced by the Delhi Police alone. By presenting Sadiq Shaikh as the mastermind of all the blasts since 2005, he was discrediting the postulates put forward by various State police departments after each terrorist attack in the past three years.
For instance, after the 2006 blasts at the Varanasi railway station and the Sankat Mochan temple, the Uttar Pradesh Police said they were engineered by Harkat-ul-Jehad al-Islami (HuJI) state chief Mohammed Waliullah, who was operating from Phoolpur near Allahabad. It specifically stated that three terrorists – Bashiruddin, Mustafiz and Zakaria – had come from Bangladesh and handed over bombs to Waliullah.
In fact, the State Police even succeeded in getting a 10-year conviction for Waliullah in this case. A fast-track court in Lucknow sentenced five others – Mehboob Alam, Mohammad Sueb, Mohammad Rizwan, Mohammad Shaad and Farhan – to 32 years of imprisonment and imposed a fine of Rs.40,000 on each of them. If the Mumbai Police claims are anything to go by, this conviction should be treated as miscarriage of justice.
Similarly, the Uttar Pradesh court blasts of November 2007 were attributed to Khalid Mohammed, a madrassa teacher from Jaunpur, and Mohammed Tariq, a Unani practitioner from Azamgarh. But, according to the Delhi Police version, Mohammed Saif, who was arrested during the Jamia Nagar operation, and Sajid, who was killed in the same operation, were responsible for engineering the court blasts.
Shahbaz Hussain was presented as the mastermind of the Jaipur blasts of May 2008 by the Rajasthan Police in a similar manner. Saraimeer resident Abu Bashar and the elusive Indian “Osama bin Laden” Abdul Subhan Qureshi alias Tauqeer were identified as the masterminds of the Gujarat blasts of July 2008 by the State’s investigation team. All the above mentioned, except Tauqeer, have been arrested and are facing trial. But the claims of the Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Gujarat police have taken a double beating in the last two weeks of September. While the Delhi Police presented Atif as the mastermind of all the blasts since 2006, the Mumbai Police made him a mere implementer and presented Sadiq Shaikh as the mastermind of all the blasts since 2006. According to the Mumbai Police, there is also one Amir Razza, based in Pakistan, who controls Sadiq Shaikh.
According to a number of internal security specialists, the Mumbai Police was provoked to make the presentation on a new mastermind and associates because it was peeved at the way the Delhi Police carried out the Jamia Nagar operation. The initial lead on the Batla House suspects was apparently provided by the Mumbai Police, and it had wanted the Delhi Police to keep a watch on the premises.
But the Delhi Police is said to have gone into overdrive and carried out the operation even before the Mumbai Police could collect more details regarding the I.M. operatives. Clearly, the tales of anti-terrorist investigations are getting more and more startling with every new attack and with every investigation.“Legitimate Action”
Security affairs expert and former Joint Director of the IB Moloy Krishna Dhar told Frontline that theories put forward by security agencies at different points of time should be seen in the right perspective and as sharing of information with the public in order to alleviate panic. “The fight against terrorism is a continuous process and the threat of extremism should not be seen lightly. The human rights groups and social activists who criticise the actions of security agencies have, maybe unwittingly, added to the confusion and the cause of anti-national elements from time to time,” he said.
Dhar perceives the Jamia Nagar operation as a legitimate counter-terrorist action that was carried out messily. “Even after knowing that a dangerous outfit was holed up inside the building, they went in without adequate protection, leading to the loss of a brave officer,” he said.
Dhar also added that many of the deficiencies in the investigations are essentially reflections of the larger rut in terms of infrastructure development in the security establishment. “If you make a comparison, the infrastructure of the Indian security establishment, especially in terms of intelligence networks, has grown only by 5 per cent in the last 15 years,” Dhar said. By all indications, the Union Home Ministry itself has realised the need for upgrading infrastructure, organisational machinery and manpower.
The Home Ministry as well as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh have reportedly stressed on the need to have a federal security agency to deal with crimes having inter-State and cross-border ramifications. The new machinery may well decrease the competition among State police departments and curtail the circulation of conflicting theories on investigations into terrorist attacks. But will that put an end to the methods of investigation that lead to incarceration and harassment of innocent people? There are no signs of a positive answer to this question, at least for the time being. •