October 1, 2015 4:02:12 am
The 7/11 Mumbai bombings trial ended Wednesday with death to five and life term for seven. However, classified material obtained by The Indian Express shows that investigations by police of three states indicated that the 2006 blasts were carried out by a separate group of Indian Mujahideen operatives.
In one custodial questioning by the Gujarat Police, taped on September 18, 2009, whose video is with The Indian Express, an alleged IM operative, Sadiq Israr Sheikh, says he planted the bombs along with Atif Amin (the IM ‘commander’ killed in the 2008 Delhi Batla House encounter), Muhammad ‘Bada’ Sajid (recently reported killed fighting alongside the Islamic State), and fugitive jihadists Shahnawaz Husain and Abu Rashid Ahmad.
A Police Video Of IM operative Sadiq Sheikh Saying ‘We Did It’
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The secret documents were not made available to the defence of the 12 men, allegedly linked to SIMI, who were sentenced on Wednesday for the bombings, which claimed 209 lives. The Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad chargesheet named 17 others in the case, 13 of them Pakistanis, all absconding.
In his custodial interrogation, Sheikh says of 7/11, “Amir Raza (IM’s Pakistan-based patron) had already informed that he would make explosives available through Riyaz Bhatkal. Riyaz Bhatkal arranged for explosives in Mangalore. Atif went to Mangalore and got 35-37 kg of explosives.”
All five of them then got first-class tickets for local trains, Sheikh says. “We had all gotten the Bombay local train time-table to identify the trains, then we bought bags and cookers. All five of us readied the bombs in seven cookers.”
“We left the apartment at 2 pm exactly (on July 11, 2006),” Sheikh adds, “carrying the bombs we had made inside pressure cookers in bags. The bombs were set to explode 4 1/2 hours later, when we knew the trains would be crowded. I was the first to leave (around 4 pm).”
In the video, Sheikh, who was arrested in 2008 for his alleged role in IM bombings in several cities, also provides details of his training in Pakistan, as well as his links to attacks in Varanasi and New Delhi.
Later, documents with The Indian Express show, Sheikh provided corroborative details to the Andhra Pradesh Police’s counter-intelligence cell. The group, he said, had rented an apartment at Deccan Cooperative Society in Mumbai’s Sewri area, where it assembled the explosives used in the 7/11 attack.
Further corroboration of Sheikh’s account of 7/11, National Investigation Agency sources said, came from arrested top IM operative Muhammad Yasin Siddibapa, who allegedly ferried the explosives used in the attack from Karnataka to Mumbai.
Mumbai Police investigators incidentally had questioned Sheikh too, recording his confessional testimony in October 2008. Later, however, they concluded that he had “fabricated his testimony” to exonerate the men being tried for 7/11. No official explanation has ever been offered for why Sheikh would have chosen to implicate himself and others in custody in order to do so.
When Sheikh was later called as a witness by defence counsel in the 7/11 case, he withdrew his confession, and was deemed a hostile witness.
Yug Mohit Chaudhry, the counsel who defended the 12 convicted now, also points to Sheikh’s interrogation by the Mumbai Police, and that the force even filed two chargesheets naming two different sets of people for the 7/11 bombings.
“While the ATS under K P Raghuvanshi said that it was these 12 SIMI guys, Rakesh Maria, who was the head of the Crime Branch at that time, said it was the IM. Maria also filed a chargesheet against the IM. Maria said he had recorded confessions of IM people, especially of a man called Sadiq, (in which) he says he carried out the blasts on behalf of the IM along with others in the IM.”
Maria, Chaudhry adds, filed a chargesheet in the court of Y D Shinde, the same Special MCOCA Judge who handed out the sentences to the 12 SIMI men on Wednesday. “Till date, the chargesheet is pending in court. Forget the law, what about the integrity of the Maharashtra Police? Why have they not withdrawn the chargesheet, which is still pending in court?” asks Chaudhry.
The other, 10,677-page chargesheet by the Maharashtra ATS says the seven bombs were each planted by an Indian national, paired with a Pakistani. There has been criticism that much of the evidence was obtained through narcoanalysis of suspects — a controversial procedure now outlawed in India, since it can generate false information.
There have also been persistent questions about whether the room in a chawl identified in the ATS 7/11 investigation as the one used by the SIMI bomb-makers had enough space for them to put together the explosives.
The IM itself has consistently claimed responsibility for all its attacks, including the 7/11 bombings, in e-mails sent to media organisations, while at once denying responsibility for others at the time attributed to it, like the strike at the Mecca Masjid in Hyderabad.
“I can say with authority that the highest levels of the Union government were made aware of the new evidence in 2008,” a retired Intelligence Bureau official said. “However, the consensus appeared to be that we ought not rock the boat, and that was that.”
The decision to bomb Mumbai, according to Sadiq Israr Sheikh’s video-recorded testimony and his interrogation records, was made in June 2006, when he met slain IM ‘commander’ Atif Amin in Saraimeer, Azamgarh.
The idea, Sheikh claimed, was to set off bombs in first-class compartments in Mumbai local trains — used, they believed, mostly by ethnic-Gujarati businessmen — to avenge the 2002 riots of Gujarat.
Following discussions with IM Pakistan-based patron Amir Raza Khan, Sheikh says, a base was set up in the one-room flat in Sewri. The flat was rented by Abu Rashid Ahmed, who was then working at an optician’s store in Andheri, and is now suspected to be fighting alongside the Islamic State in Syria’s Raqqa.
Following Sheikh’s custodial revelations of these details to the Gujarat Police, the Maharashtra ATS was notified. The Delhi Police, which also heard the same account from Sheikh, also passed on their findings to it.
Faced with this damning testimony, the Mumbai police later recorded Sheikh’s confession before a magistrate. However, it did not conduct forensic tests at the Sewri apartment, that could have helped establish the presence of any explosives, or question the neighbours. Nor was an effort made to trace the store from where Sheikh and the others could have bought the pressure cookers for the bombs, as per his claims.
In addition to Sheikh’s videotaped testimony and his statement to Andhra Pradesh investigators, the same account is contained in a classified 2010 dossier prepared by the Andhra Police to train officers monitoring and investigating jihadist networks, including the IM.
The dossier makes no reference to Pakistani nationals being involved in the 7/11 attacks — a key claim of the Mumbai Police investigation.
EVIDENCE of the IM’s 7/11 role goes further than one man’s testimony. Another classified document of the Andhra Police, prepared in 2008 by its elite OCTOPUS counter-terrorism unit, underlined startling similarities between the bombs used in the 7/11 attacks and those set off by the IM in prior and subsequent bombings.
In all these cases, the bomb-makers used a Samay-brand mechanical clock, fitted with an additional 9-volt battery as the timer, linking it to two detonators.
The IM, the document records, “developed delayed clock timers fully relying on commonly-used cheap clocks. The timer expert of the Indian Mujahideen experimented with Ajanta clocks, digital clocks and China watches. All failed (but the) Samay watch experiment turned out to be successful”.
“As a practice,” the document states, “they used red/yellow/brown wires for the positive wires and white/black wire for the negative terminal.”
“Every bomb maker tends to have a signature,” an expert with the National Security Guard told The Indian Express. “This is because the bomb-maker re-uses techniques and materials she or he knows to be successful, down to the type of wire. The fact that the Mumbai devices’ circuits were similar to those in the Indian Mujahideen attacks isn’t conclusive, but it’s certainly significant.”
First used in the IM’s attack on a market in Delhi on October 29, 2005, the Samay circuit triggered 3 kg of the explosive pentaerythritol tetranitrate (PETN), fitted inside two pressure cookers and a metal lunch box. In the next strike, at Varanasi on March 7, 2006, the device was identical, though PETN was substituted with commercially available ammonium nitrate.
The IM only once experimented with an alternative timer, using electrically erasable programmable read-only memory, for 27 improvised explosive devices planted in Surat on July 26, 2008. The bombs fizzled — leading the organisation to revert back to Samay clocks for subsequent attacks.
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