From bomb residue to body parts: Challenges faced by probe officers

Ten years after 26/11 attack, probe officers recalled how collecting every little piece of the puzzle was crucial to show that the role of Pakistan in the attack was undeniable.

November 24, 2018 6:57:20 pm

From proving that there was electricity in the south Mumbai area on November 26, 2008, to matching charred limbs with bodies as the body count began after terror attacks, investigating the killing of three senior colleagues, and assessing the international ramifications of the case were some of the challenges that 11 investigating officers (IO), probing the 11 FIRs dealing with various aspects of the 26/11 attacks, faced.

Ten years on, they recalled how collecting every little piece of the puzzle was crucial to show that the role of Pakistan in the attack was undeniable. The work of the 11 officers was overseen by the then Crime Branch Senior Inspector Ramesh Mahale, who has recently penned a book on the attacks and played a key role in preparing the chargesheet of 11, 000 pages. The then Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP) Ashok Duraphe also handled the probe, as some laws like Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act need at least an ACP-level officer to be the IO in the case.

The investigation included the then Crime Branch Officer Arun Chavan, who recently retired as ACP and kept a close eye on the technical aspects of the probe. “After Kasab was arrested, he disclosed that they had come in a fishing vessel (M V) Kuber, murdered its navigator and left the vessel at high sea. The Coast Guard tracked down the boat within hours. We had to ensure that DNA samples were collected from the boat, which later proved the presence of Kasab and the other terrorists on it. The team was led by Inspector Sripad Kale,” Chavan said. “Later we took the GPS device on the boat to the FBI lab, which proved that the accused had come from Pakistan.”

Damodar Chaudhari, who was then an Inspector with Crime Branch and in-charge of the FIR on firing at Cafe Leopold, had his unique challenges. “I had to prove that there was electricity in the south Mumbai area on 26/11 with the help of a BSES report to show that the eye-witnesses could see and identify the terrorists during the Test Identification Parade. We had to show that the evidence was foolproof.”
A similar challenge awaited Vilas Gangawane, the current Senior Inspector of Marine Drive police station, who was then investigating the firing at CST. “Some of the most important eye-witnesses were at CST. However, several witnesses were not from the city. We had to track them down from across the country.”

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Vijay Dhumal, then a Police Sub Inspector (PSI) who was investigating the blast in a taxi at Vile Parle, had a bloody sight to break down. “We found a torso and other body parts around the scene of crime. Initially we had taken three accidental death reports, but based on the DNA tests it came to light that two people had been killed,” said Dhumal, currently posted as a Police Inspector at Kasarwadavli police station in Thane.

PI Vilas Datir at Ghatkopar Police Station. (Source: Express photo by Dilip Kagda)

Vilas Datir, then attached as a PSI to unit 1 of the Crime Branch, was responsible for another taxi blast in Mazgaon. “The crux was locating an essential witness who had taken the same taxi, using which some of the terrorists Abu Shoaib and Abu Umer had come to Cafe Leopold. The duo had planted a bomb in the cab before getting off,” said Datir, currently an inspector with Ghatkopar police station.

Senior Inspector of Versova police station Ravindra Badgujar, who was then attached to the Crime Branch, said, “When Kasab and another terrorist came to Cama hospital, they had kept their bag there and some bomb residue was left behind. We had to look minutely across the path they took to get details, which could then be tested by forensic experts to prove that they were carrying explosives, and also verify the path taken by them. It was a daunting task.”

For Rauf Shaikh, an Inspector with the Crime Branch, it was a ‘tension wala kaam’ as the case was in the international spotlight. “The case I investigated was the one where our officers like Hemant Karkare, Ashok Kamte and Vijay Salaskar were killed. I kept checking the evidence to ensure there were no mistakes,” said Shaikh, who retired as ACP and is attached with Maharashtra State Police Complaints Authority.
The case that carried the least punishment, that of stealing a Skoda car from Nariman Point, was handled by Pravin Kuyeskar, then a Police Inspector in Nehru Nagar. “It has to be the most important robbery case of my life, more sensitive than even the other serious offences I have investigated,” said Kuyeskar, who is attached with Kalachowkie police station.

Mahale, who oversaw the case, said, “We managed to provide enough evidence that Pakistan did admit to their role and booked seven people. It was a major achievement.” Mahale has since retired from the force.