The Malegaon blast accused were under intense police scrutiny for years. How did they hatch a conspiracy right under the police’s nose?
Shashwat Gupta Ray, Tehelka.COM , Dec 9 2006
The Maharashtra police claims to have solved the September 8 Malegaon serial blasts which killed 31 and injured at least 200. The Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) of the state police probing the case has arrested eight suspects, including two who had already been booked for their role in the July 11 Mumbai serial commuter-train blasts. But many in this town situated near Nashik, which has a population of nine lakh, are not convinced by the police’s claim. They feel that the investigations have been proceeding in the wrong direction all along.
At a press conference held in Mumbai on November 27, Director General of Police, PS Pasricha announced that two Pakistani nationals were also involved in the explosions which were carried out by the banned Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI). “We have successfully detected the Malegaon blasts case. We are, however, on the lookout for eight more suspects in the case,” he told the assembled reporters
On October 30, the ATS produced Noorul Huda Shamsuddoha at the Malegaon sessions court, accusing him of planting one of the bombs. The same day DGP Pasricha, accompanied by Superintendent of Police, Nashik Rural, Rajwardhan, announced his arrest at a press conference in Mumbai.
Two days after Huda’s arrest, the ATS arrested Shabbir Ahmed Masihullah who it said was the mastermind behind the blasts. This was followed by the arrest of co-accused Raees Ahmed Rajjab Ali. Pasricha said that Shabbir received training at a camp near Karachi in Pakistan in 2003. He said that a Pakistani national by the name of Muzammil had assembled the Improvised Explosive Devices at Malegaon in the third week of July after Mohammed Ali (who is also an accused in the July 11 Mumbai serial blasts), along with one Junaid and two others, delivered the RDX to the main accused Shabbir “Ali had sent 15 kg of RDX, but only 2 kg was used to trigger the explosions. We are on the lookout for the remaining quantity,” the DGP said.
According to Pasricha, SIMI activists, including those arrested, hatched the conspiracy at the Huda’s wedding in May. The RDX used in the blasts was already in the country, he said. The RDX was stored at Shabbir’s godown in Malegaon till the bombs were assembled in July, after the Mumbai serial blasts.
The police arrested two more suspects, both doctors, in the first week of November. Dr Salman Farsi Abdul Lateef Aimi was arrested from his Govandi residence in Mumbai, and Dr Farogh Makhdomi Iqbal Ahmed was picked up from his Malegaon residence which doubles as his dispensary. According to SS Shaikh, a lawyer who belongs to the Jamiat-ul-Ulema in Malegaon, the two were charged under the Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act on November 6 and produced in a Mumbai court the next day.
Shaikh points out that the police had named one Dashrath Pawar of Bajrang Dal as the main suspect immediately after the bomb blasts and even released his sketch. He said that while there is no sign of Pawar now, the ATS is busy arresting innocent Muslims. Shaikh draws attention to the several news reports in the local Urdu press which suggested that people living in nearby villages knew in advance about the impending blasts.
Sudhir B. Akkar of the Malegaon Bar Association agrees with Shaikh. He feels that the investigating agencies were shielding those who are actually behind the serial blasts. Reacting to the arrests, Maulana Abdul Hameed Azhari, a senior religious leader in Malegaon, says, “From day one, we demanded that the investigation be handed over to CBI since we did not trust the police and the ATS. Now, after the arrests of innocent people, our demand for a CBI inquiry is vindicated… At least in Noorul Huda’s case, the whole population of Malegaon is ready to claim his innocence.”
The police arrested Noorul Huda for planting the bomb at the Mohammadia Mosque two days after the blasts. On the day of the blasts, high-level police officials had said that the unexploded bomb discovered at Mohammadia Mosque was a fake. Many in Malegaon now wonder how the dummy bomb became real. The ATS claims that Noorul Huda also planted one of the bombs at the Qabrastan (graveyard) which exploded on September 8.
Huda’s neighbours insist that he is innocent. There is no criminal record against him. The third son of Shamsuddoha, 25-year-old Noorul Huda belongs to a prominent and educated family of Malegaon. His grandfather Maulana Abdul Lateef Aimi was the president of the Jamat-e-Islami. Huda passed his ssc in 1996 with good scores. According to his neighbours, his desire to pursue higher studies was thwarted because of financial constraints. He began working as a labourer in the power-loom units with his father.
It was pouring heavily on the night of August 18, 2001, when the police arrived at his doorstep for the first time, asking for one Noor who had provided a meal to “some terrorist”. According to Faizee A. Alam, editor of the Malegaon based Urdu news portal theawaz.com, these terrorists were killed in an encounter at Ayodhya in July 2001 and had stayed at the Ashoka Lodge in Malegaon. The police picked up Huda who was just 18 at the time.
He was acquitted of all the charges, but from then on summons from police stations became a routine affair — it could be the anniversary of the Babri Masjid demolition or it could be a Hindu festival. Huda was summoned to police station more than 50 times in the last five years.
“He wanted to start afresh and got married in May this year. But his dreams were shattered when the police picked him up for interrogation in Manmad-Aurangabad arms haul case just eight days after his marriage,” says Alam. “He was detained in Mumbai for 12 days by the ATS. Mumbai was rocked by the bomb blasts in July, and Shabbir and Huda, who was working with Shabbir, were picked up by the ATS again in August. They did not find anything against him and released him on the condition that he would regularly visit the police station and not go anywhere without their permission. Even after Malegaon bomb blast he was visiting the police station regularly.”
Exactly a month after the bomb blast, on October 8, when his father came to Noorul Huda’s house for iftaar, he couldn’t find his son. The police had summoned him again. Unusually, a day later Huda still hadn’t returned. Instead, the police raided his house late that night. According to his father they found nothing.
“What followed afterwards was shocking,” says Alam. “Noorul Huda, who was under continuous police monitoring since 2001, was picked up for unlawful activities and became one of the main culprits of Malegaon bomb blasts. There is no resemblance of the accused with the sketches released by the police.”
Shabbir Ahmed Masihullah, the main accused in the Malegaon serial bomb blasts, was produced at the Malegaon sessions court on November 2 by the ATS. The government lawyer claimed that Shabbir masterminded the blasts, was trained in Pakistan and had contacts with several militant organisations.
Shabbir was in the custody of the Mumbai Crime Branch Unit No. 7 since August 3, when the ATS to
ok him in its custody and produced him in court. The crime branch had detained him in connection with the July serial blasts in Mumbai, and had done his narco-analysis and brain mapping. He had also been interrogated in the Nashik arms haul case.
Shabbir’s father migrated to Saudi Arabia 10 years ago, and his family followed him a couple of years later. Three years ago, Shabbir returned to Malegaon to explore business prospects and opened a cosmetics shop here. According to his lawyer, Shabbir Kardar, he used to travel abroad to make purchases for his shop during this period. Kardar says that if at all Shabbir had gone to Pakistan, he went there purely for business and not to attend any militant camps.
“Recently Shabbir Ahmed rented out the shop and started selling inverters and batteries. He set up a manufacturing unit for batteries and became a major supplier in Malegaon. The police raided his factory many times and collected soil samples from within the premises,” says Shabbir Shakir Sheikh, editor of Ufake, an Urdu weekly published from Malegaon. “The police suspect that the factory was being used for making bombs and some traces of RDX were in fact found in the soil. Noorul Huda and Raees Ahmed, another accused in the case, were working with Shabbir Ahmed in this factory,”
Dr Salman Farsi was arrested from his dispensary in the Govandi locality of Mumbai. The dispensary happens to be located near the residence of Mohammed Ali, an accused in the July serial blasts, who is already under police custody. The police say both played a major role in the Malegaon blasts.
Farsi is married to a doctor and has three children. He is the son of former Jamat-e-Islami president Maulana Lateef Aimi. He is also Noorul Huda’s uncle. Neighbours describe Farsi as a good doctor, who is also well versed in the tenets of Islam. He used to address the congregation at nearby mosques on Friday and first came to the police’s attention when the Taliban in Afghanistan demolished the Buddha statues in Bamiyan. According to his neighbours, Farsi distributed handbills supporting the destruction of the statues. The police arrested him for distributing inflammatory leaflets. He was acquitted of all charges by the courts.
Advocate Saeed Quraishi defended him in that case. “After that case Dr Salman was regularly summoned by the police for interrogation. He was summoned after the Mumbai blast (the July serial train blasts) also,” says Quraishi.
Dr Farogh Makhdomi was arrested from his Malegaon residence, located at Shaheed Abdul Hameed Road, late in the evening on November 6. His father Iqbal Ahmed Makhdomi, a retired teacher, said that he was informed of his son’s arrest at 11.30 on the same night. Local police officials told him that they were taking Makhdomi to Mumbai.
Makhdomi’s name first appeared in the police records in 2003, when he was arrested in a case of distribution of leaflets. Father of two, Makhdomi, along with his wife, had been cleared by the Hajj Committee to go on the pilgrimage to Mecca. Quraishi says that it is highly unlikely that the Haj Committee would clear a person with a dubious record. “Under these circumstances, it is hard to believe that Dr Farogh could be part of the blast conspiracy,” he says.
After the Malegaon blast, the police summoned him for interrogation several times. “According to Makhdomi’s father, his only sin was that he had purchased an inverter for his clinic from Shabbir Ahmed Masihullah sometime back,” says Maulana Azhari.
In an affidavit, available with Tehelka, one Irfan Ahmed of Malegaon said that the police picked him up from a power loom where he worked as a labourer. They took him to the outskirts of the city where he was beaten up. Then two disabled persons were produced before him, who proceeded to say that they had handed over a red bag containing explosives to him. According to Ahmed’s affidavit, he was then offered the reward money of Rs 5 lakh — announced by government for information on the blasts — to own up responsibility for the blasts.
Nashik Rural Superintendent of Police, Rajwardhan, rejects all charges of conducting a flawed investigation. “Investigations are being conducted on the basis of scientific evidences gathered from the ground. We were very careful in our investigations. Hence it took us 45 days to make the names of the accused public,” he says.
Rajwardhan says that there was “confusion” about the role of Shabbir initially. “He was arrested by the Mumbai Crime Branch one month before the Malegaon blasts in connection with the Mumbai train blasts. It was only during the course of investigations that it was found that the conspiracy had already been hatched. The bomb was assembled in his factory. This has been proved by the soil sample tests conducted in the laboratory. The result was positive. While he was under arrest, the other two accused assembled the bomb,” he says. “We have invited legal luminaries from the town to meet us. We are ready to share the evidences available — whatever is legally permissible.”
Rajwardhan admits that the police offered Irfan Ahmed reward money. Ahmed was arrested for his suspected role in the blasts, he says, and the police offered him the reward as a bait to reveal the identity of conspirators, if he knew them. “Such tactics are applied during investigations to extract more information,” the SP says. “He had not written any affidavit. The Jamat-e-Ulema got it done forcefully.”