On October 13, one month after the communal riots in Muzaffarnagar and Shamli districts in western Uttar Pradesh began, two imams from Haryana’s Mewat district — Hafeez Rashidi and Shahid — visited the home of Liaquat Ali in Kulehri village near Charthwal Kasbah in Muzaffarnagar.
The headmaster at a government-run junior high school in Jalalabad, Liaquat, 60, had apparently met Shahid in Deoband earlier that month, during the last week preceding Bakr-Id.
“On October 13, in the evening, I got a call from Shahid. He was introduced to me as an imam in Mewat, who’s been doing a lot of good work there. When he called, he said he was coming to Muzaffarnagar and wished to stay the night,” Liaquat told The Indian Express.
Shahid came over that night but he was not alone.
“A man, who I learnt later was Hafeez, was with him. Shahid told me that he was also from Mewat and the two helped the community together. I had told them that there was tension in the area and it wasn’t a good time to come. But they insisted on coming that very night,” said Ali.
The two imams stayed the night at Liaquat’s home. The next day, they said they had to go to the nearest train station. Liaquat, who was on his way to work, offered them a lift in his Maruti car. Liaquat said that while on the way to the Thanabhawan railway station, they stopped for a few minutes at the mosque of Liaquat’s moulvi friend Zamiruddin in Jalalabad village in Shamli district.
“Jalalabad is on the way to the railway station and I had called Zamiruddin for some work, and he happened to be in almost the same spot I was. So we met. While we met, I went to relieve myself in the nearby bathroom and the three of them were alone. When I came back…we said our goodbyes and then I dropped them to the railway station,” Liaquat said.
Zamiruddin, 52, called Liaquat 15 days after this “chance meeting” and said “the two men were up to no good”.
Weeks later in December, the two imams were arrested by the Special Cell of Delhi Police on suspicion of being Lashkar-e-Toiba operatives and plotting a terror attack on the capital. Police claim the two also told interrogators that they had visited the riot-hit areas of Muzaffarnagar and Shamli to recruit young men and avenge the suffering of Muslim victims during the Muslim-Jat riots in the two districts.
On January 3, Special Cell officers are said to have turned up at the doorsteps of Liaquat and Zamiruddin. On January 6, the two men went on to record their statements against the imams under section 164 CrPC in the chamber of a magistrate at Delhi’s Patiala House courts.
While Liaquat said that the first time he met anyone from Delhi Police was last week, Zamiruddin’s brother Ibadur Rahman claimed that their “association with the Delhi Police Special Cell was an old one”.
“I have always been impressed with the Delhi Police Special Cell, especially the extent of their network. I have been associated with them for years. I saw them in action in Dubai,” Ibadur claimed.
Delhi Police Special Commissioner (Special Cell) S N Shrivastava refused to comment when asked if there was any truth to Ibadur’s claim.
Liaquat said that the two imams had never approached him with any plan to recruit young men for terror activities. “I think whatever Zamiruddin spoke to the two of them about, must have shaken him. I don’t know what exactly happened,” he said, adding that he had severed contact with the two imams after this.
Ibadur’s account, however, differed at some points with Liaquat’s version of events. His brother, Ibadur said, had never met the two imams. “A call had come from Liaquat’s phone. But they never met. My brother met the two accused for the first time while in Delhi,” he claimed.
Ibadur said the Special Cell had been enquiring about the matter in Muzaffarnagar and Shamli almost immediately after the arrest of the two imams in December.
“My brother and I initially got scared when we heard the police was looking for him. So we hid. Later, an UP police officer approached us and assured us that nothing untoward would happen. And my brother and I went to Delhi on January 2,” he said.
Ibadur claimed he and his brother went to Delhi on their own by train, got in touch with the Special Cell and stayed in the capital for three days while Zamiruddin gave his statement.
Liaquat said he was approached by the police on January 3 and he went with the Delhi Police team to the local police station to give a statement before leaving for the capital with the Special Cell team. He said he was back home on January 6.