The Intelligence Bureau and the Delhi Police were aware, as early as in the spring of 2009, of new evidence suggesting that the three Kashmiri men then under trial for carrying out blasts in New Delhi in 2005 had no role in the attack, documents obtained by The Indian Express reveal. There were three blasts that took place in Sarojini Nagar, Govindpuri and Paharganj on October 20, 2005, a day before Diwali. Over 60 people were killed.
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Even though the Union Ministry of Home Affairs was made aware of this evidence, no re-investigation was ordered in this and in two other similar cases, government sources have confirmed to this newspaper.
Earlier this month, Mohammad Rafiq Shah and Mohammad Hussain Fazili were acquitted of all charges related to their role in the 2005 Delhi bombings. A third, Tariq Dar, was convicted of charges related to supporting terrorism but cleared of a role in the actual strike.
In a separate case, Mohammad Waliullah, a former Imam at a mosque in Phulpur, Allahabad, was sentenced to serve 10 years for his role in the bombing of Varanasi’s Ashwamedh Ghat on February 23, 2005. He is currently held in Dasna jail.
The third case, the serial bombing of Mumbai’s suburban train system on July 11, 2006, has seen five death sentences being handed down.
But according to a classified dossier prepared in March 2009 by the Andhra Pradesh Police’s OCTOPUS counter-terrorism cell and circulated to sister organisations nationwide, both forensic data and the testimony of suspects under interrogation contain evidence that these three attacks were, in fact, carried out by the Indian Mujahideen — and not the individuals charged.
P Chidambaram, then Union Home Minister, said he could not “recall the connection of the Indian Mujahideen to the other (three) cases mentioned” by The Indian Express. “Maybe Intelligence Bureau reports mentioned the Andhra Pradesh Police investigation”, he added.
In response to a specific question on whether, then, “no one proposed that investigation be reopened in the earlier cases on the basis of the new evidence”, Chidambaram said: “You can’t say that, either. I cannot recall after five years”.
Three separate Intelligence Bureau officials said the Ministry of Home Affairs had been made aware of new evidence flowing from the Indian Mujahideen case but underlined that neither the Minister nor other top officials were specifically asked to push for the earlier prosecutions to be reviewed.
“Let’s put it this way”, one top Intelligence Bureau official said, “we didn’t think it was our business to have a point of view, and no one asked us to have one anyway. It was up to the state police forces to do what they wished”.
“The implications of the new evidence were huge”, said a senior Andhra Pradesh Police official, “and someone should have acted. It basically meant that police in three states had fabricated evidence against innocents. No one wanted to confront this issue”.
What the secret dossier reveals
In its dossier, the Andhra Pradesh Police said that suspects had revealed, during interrogation, that the Delhi bombings had been carried out by Atif Amin, the alleged Indian Mujahideen chief killed at Batla House on September 19, 2008. “Atif went to Delhi on the pretext of studies”, the dossier states, “and took one small flat in the Jasola area and started staying there. He used to regularly come to Azamgarh. Once, he met Sadiq (Sheikh) and told him that he made some plans for carrying out blasts in Delhi”.
Later, the dossier states, Sheikh met with Amin, and the actual attack team — alleged Indian Mujahideen operatives Mirza Shadab Beig, Mohammad Shakeel and Saqib Nisar.
The Improvised Explosive Devices, it states, had already been prepared by Arif Badr, the group’s alleged bomb-making expert, who is charged with having trained in Pakistan.
“Atif kept the pressure-cooker bomb in Paharganj.” the dossier says, “Shadab kept the pressure cooker bomb in Sarojini Nagar market, while Shakeel and Saqib in Govindpuri”.
Though the Andhra Pradesh Police was the only force to document its findings on letterhead, the Intelligence Bureau kept plain-paper records of interrogations with identical findings, government sources said. The Gujarat Police also videotaped its interviews with key suspects, notably Sadiq Sheikh, which affirmed these findings — though confession testimony to police is not, under Indian law, admissible as evidence.
Forensic findings recorded in the Andhra Pradesh dossier, though, independently underlines what it was told by suspects.
The Delhi IEDs, it notes, used a Samay-brand quartz alarm clock linked to a 9-volt battery connected to twin detonators, the same mechanism as in all subsequent Indian Mujahideen devices except those used in Surat on July 26, 2008. In each case, the bomb-fabricator used banded red-yellow-brown wire for the positive connection, and white-black wire for the negative terminal.
In its report, the Andhra Pradesh Police noted that the “timer expert of the Indian Mujahideen experimented with Ajanta clocks, digital clocks, and China watches. All failed. (The) Samay watch experiment turned out to be successful”.
This, the dossier explains, was because “in the Samay watches, a small open portion was available (which allowed) the alarm connection (to be) cut and direct connection could be given to the detonators”. It contains detailed circuit drawings for the devices, illustrating the common design features.
Intelligence services concluded that the 9 kg of pentaerythritol tetranitrate used in Delhi — packed in two pressure cookers and an aluminium lunch box — was part of a consignment brought into India by Harkat-ul-Jihad-e-Islami operative Jalaluddin Mollah.
Tracking the real perpetrators
Mollah had told investigators he had handed over the explosives near Delhi’s Jama Masjid to an operative he knew by the code-name “Rocky”. The Intelligence Bureau established that “Rocky” was in fact Atif Amin, sources said. However, the Delhi Police and Uttar Pradesh Police forces never brought this information on to the legal record, allowing their prosecutions to proceed.
Tariq Dar, trial documents show, was arrested after surveillance mounted on satellite phone connections used by the Lashkar-e-Taiba showed he had called Mazhar Iqbal, a key Pakistan-based commander also known by the code-name Abu Al-Qama, to claim credit for the attack.
Based on Dar’s testimony, Shah and Fazili were arrested — even though there was no corroborative evidence and documents showed that the suspects could not have been in Delhi on the day of the attack.
“It was a hideous investigation”, says an officer familiar with the case. “Dar was trying to cash in on the news, and it set off a whole series of tragic events — the worst of which was that everyone stopped looking for the real perpetrators. You see this in each of the early Indian Mujahideen cases”.
Following bomb-making Arif Badr’s training in Pakistan, the dossier states, he met frequently with Amin and Sadiq Sheikh at his store in Saraimeer to plan their first attack, using these explosives. The explosive would continue to be used until the Delhi strike, after which, their PETN supplies exhausted, the group would turn to contacts in south India to secure supplies of ammonium nitriate, the dossier says.
The dossier goes on: “Arif Badr and Atif made two bombs. Atif and (alleged Indian Mujahideen operative) Dr. Shahnawaz (Alam) planted these two bombs as Dasaswamedh Ghat”.
In the telling of Uttar Pradesh prosecutors, though, the pressure-cooker IEDs were stored at Waliullah’s home before being planted at the Dasaswamedh Ghat by Bangladeshi nationals working for the Harkat-ul-Jihad-e-Islami.
The trial concluded in August, 2008, before the new evidence became available, but the Uttar Pradesh government has not since reopened the case in the light of the new evidence.
Mumbai’s Anti-Terrorism Squad, The Indian Express reported last year after death sentences were handed down in the 2006 serial bombing case, had interrogated key suspect Sadiq Sheikh, and concluded that the Indian Mujahideen had, in fact, carried out the strike.
However, the police’s Crime Branch, which carried out the earlier investigation, stuck by its version of events, and concluded Sheikh had made up his testimony to shield the real perpetrators. No independent review of the evidence, based on the forensic data contained in the Andhra Pradesh Police’s dossier, was ordered by the state government.