“I JUST want to know if my house is OK. Has the police demolished it or has someone grabbed it?”
It was by tracking this purported call made by the accused to a neighbour last month that the Delhi Police was finally able to arrest a 33-year-old man who had been declared a proclaimed offender for his alleged role in killing a head constable and causing injuries to over 50 policemen in the Northeast Delhi riots of 2020, according to senior officers.
Police said the accused, identified as Mohammed Wasim, had been hiding in various parts of UP before settling down in Aligarh under a false name. Wasim, a father of two, did not contact his family all this while, the police said. His family, meanwhile, fled their home in Delhi’s Dayalpur area, they said.
Wasim is accused of allegedly planning and making crude bombs, and attacking the police with them and other weapons during the riots, the police said. The police had arrested 22 persons for rioting and the murder of Head Constable Ratan Lal, but Wasim and four of his associates managed to flee at the time, officers said. He had also destroyed the phone he was using then, they said.
Police sources said Wasim and his associates allegedly placed crude bombs on the terrace of houses in a lane. “He was also present on the ground and attacked Lal and other policemen with weapons. It was a melee as a big group of protesters were moving towards the police and a few locals were running towards their homes,” the sources said.
Following the anti-CAA protests, the riots broke out on February 24, 2020, and led to more than 53 persons being killed, including IB officer Ankit Sharma and Lal, and over 550 people being injured over five days. The police subsequently registered 758 cases and arrested more than 2,500 persons on various charges, including rioting, murder, robbery, assault, criminal conspiracy, and sections under UAPA.
According to police, as protests gripped the capital during the visit of then US President Donald Trump, senior police officers Amit Sharma (then DCP Shahdara) and Anuj Kumar (then ACP Gokulpuri) were deployed in the Chand Bagh area.
“The protesters were carrying lathis, improvised weapons, iron rods, swords, stones, petrol bombs, etc. The senior police officers instructed them to return but they did not pay heed to the directions and became violent. More than 50 police personnel were injured,” said Special Commissioner of Police (Crime) Ravindra Singh Yadav.
“Visuals from the protest site show a violent mob running toward DCP Sharma and assaulting him with sticks and other weapons. Other staffers tried rescuing him but were also assaulted. Many of the protesters pelted stones at the police,” an officer said.
“Constable Lal also fought the mob as he tried to save Sharma and Kumar, who were surrounded by rioters. He sustained more than 24 grievous injuries, including stab wounds, and died. Sharma and Kumar also underwent surgeries and were in critical condition for some time,” the officer said.
Crime Branch officers said they registered a case and analysed images from over 100 CCTVs near the spot. Most of the accused were identified with the help of a facial recognition system and local inquiry, they said.
“We also had phone videos and were able to identify the accused involved in the rioting. With the help of call detail records and phone surveillance, we zeroed in on them and arrested 22,” said the officer.
Yadav said Wasim was among the five accused who had absconded and were declared proclaimed offenders. To trace them, the police said, investigators used “amped video” enhancement techniques to identify blurred faces and license number plates. Sources were also deployed in and around Delhi to look for the accused, the officers said.
“We found that one of the accused was living clandestinely in Aligarh and working at a small factory. The team was finally able to get his precise location. The accused, Mohammed Wasim, was arrested from Aligarh,” said Special CP Yadav.
During interrogation, the police found that Wasim allegedly attended protests at Chand Bagh and other areas where he met “anti-social elements”.
“On the day of the incident, Wasim and his associates filled glass bottles with thinner (chemical) and placed them on top of multiple houses in the Chand Bagh area. We have footage proving the same. Later, the men threw these bottles at the police officers while lighting them on fire,” Special CP Yadav said.
Police said Wasim also allegedly attacked Lal and other policemen with stones and improvised weapons.