Nearly three months after he was arrested by the Mumbai Police Crime Branch in connection with the bomb explosion on a public transport bus in Ghatkopar in 2002 killing two persons, Irfan Ahmed Qureshi (47) is likely to be released soon as the police have not found strong evidence of his involvement in the crime.
The unit investigating the matter has sent a report on the scant evidence in the case to the joint commissioner of police (crime), who will take a final decision.
Of the 19 accused arrested earlier by the police in the case, nine were discharged, eight acquitted, one died in Hyderabad while another accused, Khwaja Yunus, was allegedly killed in police custody, for which four officers are currently facing trial. Qureshi was picked up by the Gujarat Anti Terrorism Squad (ATS) on May 8 from Aurangabad and handed over to the Mumbai Police Crime Branch.
A senior officer said, “An innocent will not be chargesheeted. We will go through the evidence and take a final call based on the evidence found against Qureshi.”
A source told The Indian Express the police had not found enough evidence against Qureshi for a chargesheet. “The forensic reports from the Forensic Science Laboratory regarding the contents of his laptop have not yielded much. Other accused in the case, including Mohammad Altaf, who had named Qureshi in his confession, were acquitted in June 2005 though the state subsequently appealed against the acquittal,” the source said.
Another officer said they were likely to invoke Section 169 of the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973, dealing with the release of an accused when evidence is deficient. The Section reads, “If, upon an investigation under this Chapter, it appears to the officer in charge of the police station that there is not sufficient evidence or reasonable ground of suspicion to justify the forwarding of the accused to a magistrate, such officer shall, if such a person is in custody, release him on his executing a bond, with or without sureties.”
During the hearing for his remand soon after his arrest, advocates Tahira Shaikh and Yakub Shaikh representing Qureshi had submitted that his name was included in the list of accused on the basis of a confession by Altaf, who had told the court designated under the now repealed Prevention of Terrorist Activities (POTA) Act that the confession was taken under force. Based on the confession, the police had claimed Qureshi was a partner of Pragma Software, a front allegedly set up by the accused to influence Muslim youths into terror activities, while they worked for the banned Students Islamic Movement of India.
The lawyers further referred to a report by the Review Committee of POTA Act, where his family members had challenged him being named as an accused under the POTA Act. The report had claimed that Qureshi was a partner in the firm only for nine months and that he had left for the job of a lecturer in Muscat in October 2002, and that he was not in the country at the time of the blast on December 2, 2002 nor was he associated with the firm when it was raided by the police. The committee had stated in 2004 that it could not be said a prima facie case was made out to indicate any connection between Qureshi and the offence. “However, further investigation of the case, including interrogation of Irfan Ahmed Qureshi, if necessary, is not foreclosed,” the committee had said on March 6, 2004.
On December 2, 2002, a blast had ripped through a BEST bus in Ghatkopar, killing two and injuring 49 people. The prosecution had alleged the accused had links with al-Qaeda and Lashkar-e-Taiba, and had engineered the blast to avenge the post-Godhra riots.