WHILE the National Investigation Agency’s latest chargesheet in the 2008 Malegaon blasts case is a setback for the Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad, it is not the first. In the last two years, over 16 booked by the agency have been discharged or acquitted by courts.
One of the first acquittals took place in July 2014 when a sessions court acquitted Mohammed Sharif Thakkar and Mohammed Ishaque from the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act under which they had been charged as alleged recruiters for a terrorist outfit. The two were, however, convicted under the Arms Act.
They were set free as they had spent four years in jail, more than the three-year sentence they were awarded. The court, however, found no evidence to link them to charges of terrorism.
The Maharashtra ATS had in 2010 arrested the two truck drivers, who are residents of Jammu and Kashmir, from Thane and said they were members of terror outfit Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) and were recruiting men for the organisation.
The police alleged they were carrying out a reconnaissance of military installations in Mumbai, Pune and Aurangabad. Besides, the police said, they were doing a reconnaissance of oil installations in Maharashtra, Gujarat and Rajasthan.
The second acquittal was in September 2014 when a special Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act (MCOCA) court discharged Abdul Mateen Damada, 50, arrested by the Anti-Terrorist Squad for alleged involvement in the July 13, 2011 serial blasts case.
The Maharashtra ATS had arrested Damada from Goa airport in July 20114. The ATS had claimed that Damada was the one who allegedly provided financial help of Rs 10 lakh to Yasin Bhatkal to carry out blasts in Mumbai in 2011.
Another acquittal took place in May 2015 when Advocate Bilal Kagzi was acquitted of charges under UAPA by a Mumbai sessions court. Kagzi was initially detained for investigation into his role in the 2008 Gujarat blast. He was subsequently booked under UAPA on charges of extortion and having possession of explosives. He was also booked for being associated with SIMI members.
The sessions court, however, acquitted Kagzi of UAPA charges.
“Accountability needs to be fixed on officers who conduct shoddy investigations that ruins lives of people,” Kagzi, who is now a practising lawyer in Gujarat, said.
The ATS, however, has had its share of success, particularly in the Mumbai train blasts case, where of the 12 convicts, five were sentenced to death and seven to life imprisonment. All of them were convicted on the basis of confessions.
In the Mumbai train blasts too, the ATS faced embarrassment when one of the accused, Abdul Wahid, in whose house it claimed that a Pakistani had rested, was acquitted by the court stating that there was no such evidence.
“I do not know the merits of the Malegaon case but such things show our investigators in a bad light. There is a serious problem of quality of investigators that we have who rely either on confessions or manufacture or hide evidence to suit political masters,” Abdul Wahid said on Friday. In the 2002-03 Mumbai serial blasts case, a sessions court in April 2016 acquitted three individuals arrested by the ATS.
Of the 13 originally booked by the ATS, only four were held guilty under serious charges of terrorism while six others were given a sentence between three to 10 years. Three walked free.
ATS officials did not want to comment on the setbacks. The biggest setback the NIA had to face was in the 2006 Malegaon case when all nine accused it had booked for carrying out terrorist activities were discharged by a court in April 2016.