What is the case about?
On August 29, 2012, the Bengaluru City Crime Branch police arrested two youths, Shoaib Ahmed Mirza alias Chotu, then a 23-year-old computer applications postgraduate, and his associate Abdul Hakeem Jamadar, a 25-year-old commerce graduate, and accused them of planning to kill right-wing newspaper columnist Pratap Simha, currently a BJP MP from Mysore, as part of a larger plot to kill several right-wing leaders. Over a period of three days, from August 29 to September 1, 14 youths were arrested in Karnataka, then united Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra in connection with the plot.
How was the case unearthed?
The case emerged as a result of sustained surveillance by intelligence agencies of a group of Indian youths who were allegedly communicating with a bunch of Indian-origin LeT operatives based in Saudi Arabia. Police said most of the LeT operatives under watch hailed from Hyderabad and had fled the country after being allegedly involved in terror cases between the late 1990s and the first decade of 2000. These men were allegedly found to be guiding a bunch of educated, ‘radicalised’ Indian Muslim youths from Hubli, Bangalore, Hyderabad and Aurangabad to take up jihad through indoctrination and access to training through contacts in Pakistan.
Who were the persons arrested in India and how did the NIA enter the picture?
The Bengaluru police named 15 individuals in the alleged LeT plot to assassinate right-wing leaders. Besides Mirza and Jamadar, the police arrested Riyaz Ahmed Byahatti, 26, a computer applications graduate; Mohammad Akram alias Khaled, 22, a student from Nanded; Ubedullah Bahadur alias Imran, 24, a dye and tool technician; Wahid Hussain, 26, an MBA degree holder; Zafar Iqbal Sholapur, 27, a doctor; Mohammad Sadiq Lashkar, 29, an electrician; Mehaboob Bagalkot, 20, a construction worker; Obaid-Ur-Rehman, 24, a Hyderabad resident; and Nayeem Siddique, 26, a doctor. The Bengaluru police also arrested journalist Muthi-ur-Rehman Siddiqui, DRDO scientist Aijaz Ahmed Mirza, 25, and Tanzeem, 27, but the trio were not charged by the NIA for want of evidence of their role in the conspiracy. A 15th individual in the case, an engineer from Bangalore identified as Mohammed Shahid Faisal alias Zakir alias Ustad, 29, who is considered to be the prime local force behind bringing together the youths, was in Saudi Arabia at the time of the arrests in Bengaluru. In 2012, the case was handed over to the NIA on account of its international and inter-state ramifications.
Who are the persons based in Saudi Arabia who are accused in the case?
Apart from the 12 persons (11 plus Shahid Faisal) named in its first chargesheet, the NIA also named an additional 13 persons in the terror plot. Most of the 13 are suspected to be in Saudi Arabia while some are alleged to have fled to Pakistan. Two of the 13 were subsequently arrested. Dr Imran Ahmed, 34, a dentist from Mysore, was arrested in 2013 when he was travelling from Saudi Arabia to India on a fake passport while Abu Sufiyan, 57, a native of Hyderabad, was deported and landed in Mumbai in the second week of December.
Among the other Saudi-based persons named in the case is ‘Dr Motu’, who has been identified by informed sources as Dr Sabeel Ahmed, a medical doctor who was deported from the UK in 2007 after his brother Kafeel Ahmed was involved in a terror attack at the Glasgow airport. Also suspected to be in Saudi Arabia is Dr Usman Ghane Khan, 36, a doctor with alleged SIMI links who is accused of motivating the arrested youths to take up jihad. He was briefly detained in Saudi in 2013 on the request of Indian authorities but was later released.
How did an alleged terror plot take the shape of an espionage case involving the Official Secrets Act?
In December 2014, the NIA filed a fifth supplementary chargesheet in the case, where it accused one of the 12 youths named in the first chargesheet of being involved in espionage activities. The police had discovered sensitive data on a laptop owned by dye and tool technician Ubedullah Bahadur. The technician from Hubli in north Karnataka was preparing to go to China on a work assignment when he was arrested. He allegedly told the police that the ‘sensitive material’ was dumped on to his laptop by two of his arrested associates, Abdul Hakeem Jamadar and Dr Zafar Iqbal Sholapur, who secretly travelled to Pakistan via Iran in December 2011 to join the Taliban but were instead asked by ISI agents to carry out espionage activities in India.
What is the nature of the ‘sensitive data’ found on Ubedullah Bahadur’s laptop?
The NIA found “sensitive data about deployment of military and armed forces”, information on institutions of national importance such as “atomic, space, DRDO, wireless and radars etc belonging to the Government of India”. According to Ubedullah’s lawyer Akmal Rizvi, his client has been accused of possessing blueprints of the Kaiga nuclear plant in Karnataka, among other things. The NIA stated in its chargesheet against Ubedullah that K Y George, a Colonel deputed by the DG, Military Intelligence, to verify the data, had reported that “if any person possesses this information it would be prejudicial to the safety and security of the State”.
What is the present controversy about?
Ubedullah Bahadur and 11 others, who are in judicial custody and under trial for the LeT conspiracy case, have obtained orders from a trial court and the Karnataka High Court for access to the “sensitive data” that the NIA allegedly found on Ubedullah’s laptop. The NIA is likely to move the Supreme Court against the orders of the Karnataka courts on the grounds that it is detrimental to national security and that it could get leaked. The agency also argues that sections of the OSA have been invoked against only one of the accused and thus details could not be shared with all of them. Even to that accused, the agency says, evidence should be shown only in court and he must not be allowed to take it to jail. But the accused say they have a right to defend themselves and access to the evidence against them is well within their rights. “How can evidence against an accused not be provided to him? How can the accused defend himself without knowing the evidence brought against him? Even Gitmo detainees are provided these details. The evidence will have to be provided to the accused one way or the other or the case will have to be shut because no court can say don’t give the evidence,” says Ubedullah’s lawyer Akmal Rizvi, who is representing many of the youths arrested in the LeT conspiracy case.