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We weren’t on the trains…

...say the men accused in the 7/11 blasts case. Now,call detail records of three of the 13 accused debunk the police’s theory that they planted the bombs on seven of Mumbai’s local trains that day of July 2006. SUKANYA SHANTHA tells their stories

On April 25,a nodal officer from Bharti Airtel walked into the dock to face the defence lawyer in the 7/11 Mumbai train blasts case. The point of contention was whether the three men who allegedly planted bombs on seven Mumbai trains on the Western Railway Line on July 11,2006,killing 187 people and leaving over 900 wounded,were present at the spot of the incident.

Unraveling the truth behind 7/11 Mumbai train blasts probe

While the prosecution has all along claimed that the three alleged bombers—Ehthesham Kutubuddin Siddiqui,Asif Bashir Khan alias Junaid alias Abdulla and Mohammad Faisal Ataur Rehman Shaikh—boarded the trains bound to Virar and Borivali from Churchgate station and got off at Dadar,the call data records (CDRs) produced in the special MCOCA court that is hearing the case have drilled holes in the Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad’s theory. The records have supported the claims of the accused that they were at their work places or were home when the blasts took place.

Though the prosecution has said that the accused did not use their mobile phones during the alleged operation and that they could have left the phones with their family or friends,the defence argued that in that case,it is for the prosecution to probe who had been using these phones.

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What lends further credence to the defence theory is that two years after the 13 men were arrested and the cases handed over to the ATS,the Crime Branch of the Mumbai Police arrested five alleged Indian Mujahideen men and claimed they were responsible for the July 11,2006,Mumbai blasts. On October,18,2008,DCP Vishwas Nagrepatil recorded a confession of Mohammad Sadiq,an alleged IM member,under Section 18 of MCOCA.

***

Ehthesham Siddiqui says he had been in Mumbai for only a couple of years,making a living getting books printed for a commission,when he was arrested in August 2006. On the day of the blast,Siddiqui claims to have gone to meet one of his clients at Mira Road. According to a letter he wrote to the trial court in 2006,a claim that was also supported by the CDRs,Siddiqui was at Mira Road throughout the day.

But according to the prosecution,the 24-year-old was the Mumbai secretary of the banned Students’ Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) and had allegedly harboured Pakistani terrorists in the city. He allegedly surveyed local trains in Mumbai before the blasts,helped assemble bombs and attended conspiracy meetings. One of the bombs exploded at Mira Road station.

Siddiqui,now 31,says he filed over 1,500 RTI applications while in prison. Over 400 of these were directly related to the train blast case. “I asked for the minutest of details—date of arrest,place where we were kept,platforms on which the trains had halted. Initially,the replies were vague,today our defence case stands on the information gathered under the Act,” says Siddiqui.

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The soft spoken Siddiqui has regularly sought,and got,answers through RTI applications and through petitions in courts—on the condition of the cramped Anda cell in Arthur Road Jail where he and the other accused are being held,the size of the beds in prison,the “behaviour” of the superintendent who “regularly thrashed” the inmates and many more.

Siddiqui,who had a diploma in chemical engineering when he was arrested in 2008,is now studying for his masters in tourism management from Indira Gandhi National Open University. On weekdays,he attends court and on weekends,he goes to K J Somaiya College at Vidyavihar in Central Mumbai for his classes. “Two constables stand guard while I sit through my three-hour class,” he says.

Siddiqui has played a key role in strengthening the defence’s stand. “Earlier,even when we screamed out loud that we were innocent,no one listened to us. Today,we are backing it with evidence,” he says.

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Siddiqui says he always wanted to study further,“but could never pursue it”. “I am putting these years in jail to good use. Life in prison can bring out the worst in a person. If the mind if not channeled into doing something constructive,the strongest of men can break down.”

While Siddiqui had been implicated in two other cases for his alleged SIMI activities,he has been acquitted in one of them. Another case is in its final leg.

While in jail,Siddiqui’s parents rarely visited him. “But they are supportive. Travelling from Jaunpur in Uttar Pradesh is difficult,but they know what’s happening here.” His two younger brothers support his parents back home,he adds.

***

Asif Bashir Khan,40,the ‘second bomber’,was arrested three months after the blast for allegedly placing a bomb in a 17:37-hour Virar Slow local. The bomb he allegedly planted in the first-class compartment of the train exploded between Mira Road and Bhayander stations. He was arrested on October 3 from Karnataka.

The ATS claims he supplied and distributed the RDX which was used in the train blasts and later in the 2006 Malegaon blasts. But the attendance register at Khan’s office showed he was at his workplace in Kandivali from morning until 6 pm,something the CDRs of his phone too indicate,says defence lawyer Sharif Shaikh.

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“I was in my office in Kandivali that day. I signed my muster roll in the morning,worked through the day and left in the evening,” says Khan,a civil engineer who worked as a site in-charge with the Lokhandwala Group at the time of his arrest. His claims are supported by the nodal officer of the cellphone company and matches the CDRs furnished in court.

“When I set out that day after work,I heard trains were being targeted. I was both sad and worried,” he says. “Sad” that innocents were killed and “worried” for his community. “I knew the police would go after Muslims. But I didn’t know I would be one of the several Muslims to be rounded up,” Khan says.

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The ATS alleged that Khan masterminded the blasts and harboured Pakistani terrorists at his home in Mira Road. They alleged that he had bought rexine bags,utensils,ammonium nitrate,detonators and helped assemble bombs at his house.

What followed the arrest,Khan says,is “deplorable”,something even “real bombers” should not be subjected too. “The officers tried every tactic possible to extract a confession from me. I would be stripped naked and beaten by any and every officer handling the case. They threatened to get my family from Jalgaon and abuse me in their presence,” Khan says. “It is a systematically executed operation. Muslims are targeted not just by a few communal minds,but an entire system which works on one agenda,” he says.

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Through RTI,Khan was able to trash the testimonies of two of the prosecution witnesses who claimed that they had seen Khan board the train at Churchgate and get off at Dadar. He says it wasn’t easy to procure the CDRs. “But this delay in a way proved to be a blessing in disguise. Had the case been wrapped up soon after we were arrested,most of these revelations would not have happened.”

***

For Faisal Shaikh,37,2006 had begun well. Two of his brothers had got jobs in software companies,he had started his new business and was planning to set up a small workshop at Jogeshwari. “My youngest brother Muzzamil had just got a job with Oracle and my other brother,Rahil,had shifted to London. But then,the blasts happened and everything changed overnight,” he says,standing in a small passage at the Kala Ghoda sessions court in south Mumbai.

ATS claimed Shaikh was chief of Lashkar-e-Toiba’s Mumbai unit and worked for Azam Cheema,Lashkar’s commander-in-chief (training) in Pakistan. While Shaikh was picked up for planting a bomb which exploded near Jogeshwari station,his brother Muzzamil,then 22 years old,was subsequently arrested for being a ‘conspirator’. The chargesheet names Shaikh’s other brother,Rahil,as one of the 15 absconding accused. “I was picked up on July 19 but official records show that I was arrested on July 27. The tower readings show how several calls were made from my phone in and around Jacob Circle road,” Shaikh says. He is tall and broad built,speaks a distinct Mumbaiyya tongue. Shaikh says life hasn’t been the same for his family since the arrest. “Relatives,who earlier said they considered us to be their role models,had suddenly distanced themselves,” he says.

He says he has made friends with a few policemen in jail. “But when I begin to narrate my story of discrimination and how my family was targeted,they do not want to believe. ‘Kuch toh kiya hoga’,they say.”

The CDR revelation,Shaikh says,“has directly questioned the ATS’s story. But we hear no noise.” He blames the media,too. “They never question the police version. We have to fight our own battles,” says Shaikh.

TRIAL TRAIL

July 20 to October 2,2006: State ATS arrests 13

Muslim men

November 29,2006: Chargesheet filed and all 13 accused booked under MCOCA and sections of IPC

December 18,2007: Trial commences with the examination of first witness

2008: Accused move Supreme Court,trial stayed. Stay lifted two years later,on April 23,2010

August 16,2012: Defence seeks warrant on ATS to trace the CDRs of the seized mobile phones of the accused. This data,with the ATS,was not produced in court. Trial court rejects application

December 10,2012: HC quashes the trial court order

March 7,2013: Three nodal officers quote amount of Rs 34 lakh in court to retrieve the CDRs. Later,Vodafone,Loop,Airtel and Tata Teleservices make the CDRs available free of cost

The Retractions

Muzamil Jaleel

Between July 20,2006,and October 3,2006,Mumbai Police’s ATS arrested 13 people and claimed to have cracked the case. The ATS claimed that these men had confessed to their crime. In November 2006,all the accused filed written submissions to the court,saying they were made to confess under severe custodial torture. Extracts from the submissions of three of the accused:

Ehthesham Siddiqui,Accused No. 4

“On 07.11.2006,my Test Identification Parade was held at Arthur Road Jail’s open ground. The witnesses were kept in (a) room inside the jail…I and Mohammed Ali (were) made to stand between 12 dummies. (We had) beards and the other 12 dummies were clean shaven…so we both can be easily identified. I was identified by three witnesses…ATS cell ACP Vinod Bhatt,a respectable ATS officer,met me twice,first time he asked me about myself and my past. When he met me second time,I told him that I am innocent…He said that you are innocent and all other accused are also innocent. I am (under pressure) from superior officers of ATS to falsely implicate you and other accused in the said case. He had named specifically ATS chief K P Raghuvanshi,A N Roy (then Commissioner of Mumbai Police)…Mr Vinod Bhat was a good and honest officer,he had committed suicide but I say that the ATS officers had killed him because he was not cooperating (with) them to falsely implicate us in the case.

I was given shock treatment (after getting me to strip)…They used to tie wire on the thumb of (my) leg,then they used to give shock treatment at regular intervals. I was also given shock (treatment) on my private parts at regular intervals…They used to tie me upside down…and my both hands were tied by rope. Then they used to pour water into my nose at regular intervals…They warned me that my brother and father will be also (included) in the bomb blast case if I do not sign on the confessional statement. They also warned that (women) members of my family will be brought and…molested.”

(Written submission to court on March 9,2006)

First published on: 05-05-2013 at 12:31:07 am
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