EVEN AS the Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) made one more arrest last week in connection with the triple blasts that shook Mumbai on July 13, 2011, tenants of Habib Apartment, where the three main accused lived during preparation for the attack, have moved on with their lives.
The shock of having rubbed shoulders with terrorists, and the incessant media attention, has worn off over the course of five years. The attack that claimed 27 lives and left 100 injured in Zaveri Bazaar, Opera House and Dadar was alleged to have been planned in room 53 on the third floor of Habib Apartment. According to the ATS, Yasin Bhatkal, posing as Imran, and two other men, Waqas and Tabrez, rented the room from owner Rubina Qureshi six months before the attack.
Sultan Khan, who then took pride in handling the brokerage of most buildings around Byculla East, including Habib Apartment, had facilitated the deal. “Yasin, who came as Imran, approached me through another broker Aslam Petla, who lives in Madanpura. Imran told me he worked in a call centre and that Waqas and Tabrez were his brothers and they were trying to make a life in this city. I set up a meeting with Rubina and then they took it from there. So many like them come to the city, how could any of us know? Terrorists don’t come with that stamp on their foreheads,” said Khan.
Rubina Qureshi was initially not happy about three men renting her apartment, but eventually agreed to an arrangement of Rs 1 lakh as deposit and a monthly rent of Rs 8,000. The 83-year-old woman who lives in the apartment opposite room 53 saw very little of the three men, who according to most neighbours, kept to themselves.
“Within 12 days of the attack a team of the Delhi Police came to me claiming those men were terrorists. And that was when we all noticed the big lock on room 53. They had vanished. Rubina and I were told to alert the team if the three returned. They never did,” said Khan.
A few weeks later, Rubina claims she got a call from Waqas demanding the return of their deposit. ATS officials traced the call.
“Jab humain pata chala ki Sultan aur Rubina ko police ne isiliye bulwaya kyunki woh teen terrorist the pura mohalla shock main tha. Woh humare beech mein they aur humain pata bhi nahin chala. Bohot zyada dar gaye the tabhi,” said a resident, who has lived in the building for the last 23 years.
After key arrests, such as that of Yasin Bhatkal at the Nepal-India border, Khan, Rubina and Aslam Petla were summoned for identification. “I remember it like yesterday. We were taken to Thane and spent an hour looking at men lined up for us to identify as the terrorists. The police told me to go and pick the hand of the men I recognise. I recognised Imran, who was short and Tabrez who was taller.
It was a very disturbing day,” said Khan.
He has now given up arranging apartments on rent, and facilitates property purchases. Rubina Qureshi has passed the keys to room 53 to her relative Shakeel Qureshi.