Ishrat Jahan case: A shootout and many smoking gunshttps://indianexpress.com/article/india/latest-news/ishrat-jahan-case-a-shootout-and-many-smoking-guns/

Ishrat Jahan case: A shootout and many smoking guns

Ishrat,the most visible face of the tragedy,was barely 19 when she was shot dead.

With the CBI making its first arrests in the Ishrat Jahan case,Ujjwala Nayudu and Rahul Tripathi look at past investigations,all of which have punctured holes in the Gujarat Police’s encounter theory

When were Ishrat Jahan and three others killed? Was it in a police encounter on June 15,2004,as the Gujarat Police’s records show,or a day earlier,on the evening of June 14,as subsequent investigations by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and others show,and which now point to an encounter that may have been staged? Nine years after the alleged encounter,heads have begun to roll in the Gujarat Police with the CBI making arrests,including that of IPS officer Girish Singhal,late last month.

On June 15,2004,the Gujarat Police announced that it had “eliminated the first woman fidayeen”. Ishrat,the most visible face of the tragedy,was barely 19 when she was shot dead. Police said they had found an identity card on her that identified her as Ishrat Jahan Raza,a science student of Guru Nanak Khalsa College in Mumbai.

According to the Gujarat Police,Ishrat and her “accomplices”,Javed Sheikh alias Pranesh Pillai and alleged Pakistanis Amjad Ali Rana and Jishan Johar,were Lashkar-e-Toiba operatives out to assassinate Chief Minister Narendra Modi. Police killed Ishrat and the others in the ‘encounter’ and claimed to have foiled the assassination bid. Their bodies,riddled with AK-56 bullets,lay on the road beside a blue Indica car on the outskirts of Ahmedabad. The police claimed to have acted on an intelligence input that Javed was coming with two fidayeens in a blue Indica—MH02 J A 4786—to kill Modi.

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After the encounter,Pandey and Vanzara proudly claimed to have busted a high-profile,“genuine” terror plot. “Genuine”,because questions were being raised on two earlier encounters—that of Samir Khan Pathan (2002) and Sadiq Jamal Mehtar (2003).

The CBI took over the case in 2011 and on February 21 this year arrested IPS officer Girish Singhal,who was an assistant commissioner of police in the Crime Branch in 2004 and had led the operation under Vanzara’s supervision. Four more arrests followed—that of DSP Tarun Barot,who was then a police inspector with the Crime Branch (he is in jail in the Sadiq Jamal encounter case); retired DSP J G Parmar; inspector Bharat Patel; and Barot’s former security commando Anaju Chaudhary.

THE CBI REPORT

The CBI probe relied on analysis of the call detail records of the policemen,forensic analysis of hard-disks seized from Forensic Science Laboratory (FSL),Ahmedabad,and on SIT’s reconstruction of the crime scene by a team from AIIMS and the CBI’s Central Forensic Science Laboratory (CFSL) in Delhi. The CBI also tracked eyewitnesses who claimed that Ishrat and three others were kept inside a farmhouse on the outskirts of Ahmedabad days before they were shown to be killed in the encounter. Another witness from a toll plaza near Vasad (Anand) told the CBI that he had seen a Gujarat Police team taking Javed and Ishrat into custody from an unidentified car.

The post-mortem report analysed by experts at AIIMS concluded that semi-digested food was found in the victims’ stomachs,indicating that the four had been killed seven or eight hours earlier than what the Gujarat Police claimed (police had claimed to have killed them at 3.40 am).

During the reconstruction of the encounter,the CBI studied the pattern of firing. According to the SIT,some of the wounds on the bodies could not have been possible if there was an exchange of fire.

According to the police theory,Amin’s Gypsy had stopped behind Ishrat’s car. While the Gypsy was on the left side of the lane,Ishrat’s car was on the right side of the lane,near the divider. Though police claimed that the rear left wheel of Ishrat’s car was at a distance of 33 feet from the Gypsy,the road itself was only 25 feet wide. The other team led by Singhal,which had reportedly positioned itself in the roadside bushes on the left side of the lane,was,according to the police,66 feet away from Ishrat’s car. The SIT found that from this position,the policemen could not have hit Ishrat and Javed on their neck. This could only have been done from close range. The police barricades,which found a mention in the police FIR,were later found to be a cover-up for the encounter.

The CBI team said they were now focusing on getting the statements of some of the accused recorded before a magistrate under Section 164 of the CrPC. This will help the agency build a case against the accused policemen who are still out of the CBI’s net.

Even before the CBI took over the case,earlier investigations had punctured holes in the police theory.

First doubts

In December 2006,Ishrat’s mother approached the High Court,after which the court appointed a magistrate to look into her allegations that the encounter was fake. Magistrate

S P Tamang concluded in his 2009 report that the Gujarat Police had staged a fake encounter. This was the first probe that raised doubts over the authenticity of the encounter.

As against the Crime Branch’s claim that Ishrat and her aides were killed at around 3.40 am on June 15,2004,Tamang’s analysis of the postmortem report showed Javed was killed on June 14 between 8.30 pm and 9 pm while the three others were killed with an unlicensed 9 mm pistol and other weapons between 11 pm and midnight. This was based on the extent of rigor mortis that had set in and the food left undigested in the stomach.

The report also showed that Javed and Jishan both had AK-56 bullet wounds on their bodies,so they could not have been carrying these weapons,unlike what the police claimed.

The loopholes

On August 13,2009,the High Court constituted a Special Investigation Team led by Karnail Singh and with Mohan Jha and Satish Verma as the other members. But Karnail Singh soon quit the SIT following differences within the team. In July 2011,the court appointed Rajiv Ranjan Verma,a Bihar-cadre IPS officer,as the new SIT chief.

The SIT found major loopholes in the Crime Branch probe of 2004 that was conducted by ACP (Women’s Cell) Parikshita Rathod. When Rathod had written to the sub-divisional magistrate for permission for an inquest,she mentioned the aliases of the four who were killed. The SIT noted that their aliases could not have been known before the custodial interrogation or identification. Besides,the Crime Branch hadn’t done a forensic examination of the weapons of the police officers involved nor were the logbooks of the police vehicles checked. During its probe,the SIT found no evidence of some police vehicles that the force claimed were used in the encounter.

The intelligence input that Ahmedabad CP K R Kaushik reportedly received—that Javed and two other fidayeens were out to kill the Chief Minister—had no documentary evidence. Also,there were variations in the FIR filed by the Crime Branch and her probe report. The confidential reports prepared by Singhal during this period indicated that two of those killed were already in police custody before the encounter.

The SIT nailed the accused police officers on one major finding—when Ishrat’s car was in motion and Amin shot at the left tyre of the car,the vehicle would tilt towards the left and not right as claimed by the police. When CFSL experts had a different view on this,the SIT sought a report from a mechanical engineering college in Berkley (USA) which showed that in no circumstances could the vehicle have tilted to the right and hit the divider,but CFSL refused to accept the report. Besides,the video showed no dents on the car which should have been there if the car crashed into the divider.

A bag containing 17 kg of a yellow powder,which the police claimed to have recovered from the car,was examined by FSL and found to be non-explosive. Also,the number of exit holes on the Indica are larger than the entry holes and all exit holes show downward trajectories,indicating close range fire.

The missing bullets

IPS officer Satish Verma,one of the SIT members,was given a free hand to conduct the probe after his report to the High Court in which he said that the encounter was fake and that Mohan Jha,his SIT colleague,had allegedly threatened witnesses to retract. The Gujarat Police used 9 mm cartridges from an unidentified gun during the encounter but police did not record this in the initial forensic report. Verma searched FSL in Ahmedabad and found a hidden hard disk which had photos showing empty 9 mm cartridges at the encounter spot.

A 9 mm bullet that the police claimed to have recovered from Amjad’s body and another 9 mm bullet found from Ishrat’s clothes did not match the police’s encounter weapons.

On November 24,2011,Verma filed an affidavit in the High Court stating that the encounter was fake.

THE BACKSTORY

After the death of Ishrat’s father Shamim Raza,who worked in a construction company in Mumbai,Ishrat had to give up her dreams of becoming a doctor. She had to support the family by taking maths tuition after college. Barely a month before the police encounter,she had met Javed who offered her a good pay for handling accounts at his Pune office.

The SIT also gave a clean chit to Ishrat,stating that while she had travelled with Javed to Ahmedabad,Lucknow and Ibrahimpur (UP),and was found in a Bardoli (Surat) hotel two days before her encounter,she had no criminal record. She was “unaware” of Javed’s involvement in the counterfeit currency and smuggling business till she joined him. SIT also clarified that there was no evidence to support 26/11 accused David Headley’s claim that she was an LeT fidayeen.

Immediately after the encounter,Ghazwa Times,the Lahore-based mouthpiece of the Lashkar-e-Toiba,described Ishrat as an LeT activist. However,three years later,the Lashkar in its avatar as Jamaat-ud-Dawa publicly disowned her.

Javed and Amjad had allegedly bought the Indica from Pune with unexplained money and procured firearms from UP. Amjad alias Babar figures in the interrogation reports of some alleged militants in Kashmir. However,Jishan is still an unidentified alleged Pakistani and no one ever came to claim his body. Javed alias Pranesh moved from Alleppey,Kerala,to Mumbai in the early 90s where he had four offences against him.

The big fish

Then Ahmedabad CP K R Kaushik,then JCP (Crime) P P Pandey,then DCP (Crime) D G Vanzara,then Add CP G L Singhal and then ACP N K Amin have been named in the CBI FIR. A year after the encounter,Vanzara was promoted to the rank of DIG and posted as chief of the Anti Terrorism Squad. His right-hand man,Amin,moved to the ATS with him. Then IGP Pandey was promoted to the rank of ADGP a year and a half after the encounter. He was made chief of the State’s Intelligence Bureau where he remained as chief for several years but was later removed on HC’s instructions.

TIMELINE

June 15,2004: Ishrat Jahan,Javed Sheikh,Jishan Johar and Amjad Ali Rana are killed in an encounter on the outskirts of Ahmedabad.

December 12,2006: Gujarat High Court admits Shamima Kausar’s special criminal application stating that her daughter was killed in a fake encounter

September 7,2009: Metropolitan Magistrate S P Tamang’s inquiry says encounter is fake.

September 24,2010: The HC forms another SIT under Karnail Singh (UT cadre) and Mohan Jha and Satish Verma. Karnail Singh soon quits,followed by Satyapal Singh and J V Ramadu

July 19,2011: Rajiv Ranjan Verma is named new SIT chief

November 24,2011: Satish Verma files an affidavit stating Ishrat encounter is fake and that several witnesses were forced by SIT officer Mohan Jha to retract

April 17,2011: SIT reconstructs Ishrat encounter with all 22 policemen involved,along with CFSL and AIIMS experts

December 1,2011: HC transfers case to the CBI

December 17,2011: The CBI registers a fresh FIR against 21 police officers

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February 21,2013: After one year of probe,CBI arrests IPS officer Girish Singhal who had pulled the trigger on Ishrat and aides.