What the contradictions between Delhi Police and NIA stories say about conduct of terror investigations
Even as the Union home ministry, intelligence and security agencies wear an air of quiet accomplishment for capturing the entire leadership of the Indian Mujahideen in a matter of eight months, deep fissures have erupted in the story as the National Investigation Agency (NIA) and the Special Cell of Delhi Police can’t decide who is in charge of the investigation.
The Delhi High Court has now demanded that the home secretary get the story straight and report back. Meanwhile, there are contradictions in the story of the September 1, 2010, shootout that killed foreign tourists at Jama Masjid.
While the Special Cell claims that the two perpetrators were Qateel Siddiqui from Darbhanga and Mohammed Adil from Karachi, the NIA’s version says that those who fired at the tourists were Asadullah Akhtar and Waqas, who was arrested last week. Qateel, who was mysteriously killed in Pune’s Yerawada Jail, can no longer clarify anything about the “confession” he delivered to Delhi Police.
Clashing narratives like these raise serious questions about the way terror cases are investigated and prosecuted. There are many reasons why processes are undercut in such cases, why shoddy police work and inconsistencies are not held up to rigorous scrutiny, or why confessions extracted in custody can weigh heavily in the outcome. The official stakes in finding quick answers after a terrorist attack, the special laws that operate in such cases, combined with social and institutional bias, can produce situations where the innocent are tried.
There have been all too many cases where this subversion of due process has been exposed — after the 2006 Mumbai attacks, when hundreds of Muslims were arrested without proof, the ATS blamed SIMI while the Mumbai Police crime branch identified Indian Mujahideen as the plotters. In 2006, Imran Kirmani was held for attempting a “9/11-type plot” in Delhi, until the court cleared him four years later and blamed the “callous and inferior quality of investigation”.
Last year, Khalid Mujahid, who was held for serial blasts at district courts in Lucknow, Faizabad and Gorakhpur in 2007, died in custody, ostensibly under the protection of the state — even as the timing and place of arrest had been held “doubtful” by the Justice Nimesh panel that looked into the controversy.
Investigations that are not scrupulous and judicial scrutiny that does not ask hard questions not only end up framing the innocent, but also facilitate the escape of those who actually plan and implement acts of terror. They can also feed the insecurity and estrangement among Muslims and vitally corrode faith in impartial justice.