|The Telegraph, November 12, 2006||Four months after the blasts in India’s financial capital, there are gaping holes in the investigators’ case, reports Velly Thevar|
Naved Husain loved the good life but was a lonely lad. He worked at a call centre, his brother was a journalist and his father was employed in Kuwait. Their father had remarried and the issue divided the brothers.
But then Naved found a friend in Faisal Sheikh. The two hung around together, and Faisal would often take him to beer bars and restaurants.
Today, both Naved and Faisal are in police custody in Mumbai, charged with being involved in the July blasts in Mumbai. But questions are being raised on whether the two — along with some of the other accused — really had a hand in the multiple blasts that killed at least 190 people.
Four months after the blast, there are gaping holes in the investigators’ case. While the city has been made to believe that the blasts were the handiwork of Pakistan’s ISI, Jaish-e-Mohammed and the Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI), experts believe that the real story of who bombed Mumbai with so much sophisticated precision and how is still a mystery. And they fear that the real story will never be known.
Anti-Terrorism Squad officials were unavailable for comment, but the charges have kicked up more questions than answers so far. Take the case of Faisal Sheikh, now touted as the main accused in the case. Initially, he was described as just a member of Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT). But two to three weeks after the blasts, Faisal was suddenly — and inexplicably — elevated to the status of the prime accused.
Some believe that the police is trying to build a case revolving around SIMI without adequate information. Lawyer and human rights activist P. A. Sebastin is openly critical of the police’s line of investigations. “The state seems to have acted with a pre-decided idea that SIMI was involved right from day one. This is a line of thought that they want to prove at any cost. Such acts of prejudice destroy real evidence.”
Almost the entire investigation by the Mumbai police hinges on confessions by the accused induced through narco-analysis. Says lawyer and human rights activist Mihir Desai, “When police rely on confessions, one has to be extra-cautious about digesting what they (the police) dish out. Confessions are not voluntary.” In fact, soon after the police commissioner’s press conference, some families of the accused moved court with affidavits that spoke of torture.
At-tur Rahman, Faisal Sheikh’s father, talks about how he was detained and administered third degree torture without a stitch on his body for over seven days in the presence of his son to make Faisal come up with answers that the police sought to hear. The police is now trying to get to his second son, 28-year old Rahil, who works as a software engineer in London. The family says his wife is being forced to make calls to London to bring him back. His third son, Muzammil, is an Oracle expert and was in Bangalore much before the blasts occurred. The family says Muzammil was beaten up by a DCP and made to sign on a blank paper.
“The pertinent question is whether the Mumbai police are on the right track,” says human rights activist Dilip D’souza. “I am concerned because the mode of investigation seems to be confessions — with every confession leading to another pick up. It is all very suspicious.” Another accused, Asif Junaid, was picked up a couple of years ago by a senior cop in Jalgaon during his posting there. At the time Junaid was accused of being a SIMI member. The same officer, now posted in Mumbai, gave his inputs to the blasts investigation, and Junaid was picked up again. A civil engineer with a wife and two sons, he was arrested from Karnataka.
Legal experts point out that the police has picked up people they had earlier targeted. Accused Mohammad Ali from Govandi, for instance, caught the eye of the police a few years ago when he gave a rabble-rousing speech in his area. The police often picked him up and then let him go. In the 7/11 blasts investigations, the police claim that bombs were assembled in Ali’s house.
In his 10×10 room in Govandi in north east Mumbai, three families comprising 20 members including eight children lived cheek by jowl. The police say that there were several pressure cookers, each with six kilograms of explosives, in his house. “If seven pressure cookers were packed there, it would mean 42 kgs of RDX and ammonium nitrate floating about in the house and there is no trace of it,” says a neighbour who has known Ali for several years.
In legal circles in Mumbai, the buzz is that Ali is being groomed as an approver in the case. “Now they are saying that Mohammad Ali did not pack the explosives himself. They are bringing in another fellow called Wahid to do the honours. In a court of law, it is easy to name Mohammad Ali as an approver if he has not packed the chemicals himself,” says an expert.
There is also some confusion about 24-year old Mohammad Majid, who was picked up from Calcutta. His father-in-law, a lawyer in Sealdah, says Majid is being falsely implicated. The family holds that there is another Mohammad Majid who als
The lack of physical evidence in the case is something that the Mumbai police is trying to grapple with. Even on the issue of pressure cookers, there are unanswered questions. “I am surprised that they found residue of plastic that resembled a pressure cooker handle,” says Col M.P. Chaudhury, a terrorism and explosives expert. “The place was first combed by Army explosive experts who didn’t find any such trace.”
The police say they recovered a few pressure-cooker weights and gaskets from the sand near the Mira road railway tracks. Faisal, they say, had revealed to them that cookers were used in the blasts and that he had thrown away the weights and gaskets. The police, however, recovered the weights from Mira Road, several stations away from Bandra where Faisal lived. Further, Faisal was picked up on July 16, handed over to the Anti-Terrorist Squad on July 27 and taken for narco-tests in the first week of September. Doubts are being raised on how the cooker parts were lying in Mira Road — as if waiting for the police to pick them up — for 45 days.
Even in the case of Tanvir, a Unani doctor, there seems to be a botched up attempt to get evidence. Sources say that Tanvir did dally with Pakistan and with hard core fundamentalism. But if, as the police say, Tanvir was thrown out of a training camp in Pakistan as he questioned the LeT strategy, why was he entrusted with the job of bombing Mumbai?
“In the eyes of the law, a man is guilty of an offence only after he is convicted,” says former justice Hosbet Suresh. “But in this case, the police are saying he went here, he went there, he is guilty.”