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Published in the 1-15 Aug 2004 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

Encounter or extra-judicial custodial killing

By Syed Shahabuddin

On 15 June, 2004, a team of known sharp shooters of the Ahmedabad Police shot 4 alleged terrorists including a Mumbai girl on their way to kill Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi. The photograph of their dead bodies neatly laid on the ground beside the car in which they were traveling was on the front pages of the newspapers next morning.

Assuming that they were all terrorists, funded and armed by the Lashkar-e-Toiba, and that they intended to assassinate the Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, the police version of the killing has many gapping holes which time has only widened. It is now universally felt that it is yet another case of custodial killing or extra-judicial execution by the Ahmedabad police.

For one thing, the timing of the incident and the manner it was publicized served to generate public sympathy for poor Modi, always living under the shadow of terrorism, at a time when he was facing a hard time in his party both within and outside Gujarat. His party MLAs wanted him out. The tallest leader of the BJP, Atal Behari Vajpayee had attributed the defeat of the BJP in the General Election to what did Modi caused or allowed to happen in Gujarat in February-June, 2002.

Secondly, the three men and one woman who were killed had been apparently very obliging and carried documentary proof of their identity and, one of them, at least, had his diary with him, all of which enabled the Ahmedabad police immediately to announce the identity of this foursome of two Indians and two Pakistanis, within a few hours and the name of the owner of the car as well as the object of their mission to Ahmedabad.

Thirdly, the police claims that after the car had come to a stop having collided with a road-breaker, there was an exchange of fire. Two militants fired 42 rounds from their AK56 rifle and revolvers but not a single policeman had received even a scratch.

Fourthly, the arms and ammunitions ‘captured’ from the militants included bombs. So why didn’t they lob the bombs at the police to evade their capture. They include even more sophisticated weapons which they did not use in the gun-battle against the police. Rather considerate of them!

Fifthly, no photograph showing the scene of the encounter or the inside of the car, immediately after the occurrence, was released to the press. The photographs flashed on the front page could well have been taken after the car and the victims had been moved from the actual scene and suitably positioned.
Sixthly, there is not much traffic on the road at that hour but there are houses within 100 meters. No one in the neighbourhood claimed to have heard any sound, though the exchange of fire was said to have continued for hours.

Seventhly, the two ‘Pakistani’ controls, the question arises as to why the Ahmedabad police who did not arrest at least Ishrat Jahan and Javed Shaikh in Mumbai or intercept the group on their long drive from Mumbai to Ahmedabad.

Eighthly, the police claims that it followed the car from their point of entry into Ahmedabad area and that it had posted vigils and sharpshooters at every point of entry. But the terrorist obliging as ever, chose to enter Ahmedabad at the point where the known and skilled sharpshooters had been posted!
Ninthly, the police is yet to explain that if the alleged terrorists indeed intended to attack CM Modi, why from the highway they did not turn towards Gandhinagar where he lives and instead took the road to Ahmedabad. The police also says that Ishrat and Javed had made their several visits to Ahmedabad and even names the hotel where they stayed on their last visit. Perhaps even, on this occasion, they also wanted to check into a hotel. The police could then have waited till they checked in and then captured them alive.
It transpires now that the police had a mole in the LeT, living in Ahmedabad who had kept Ahmedabad police informed of the terrorist plan.

There is no doubt that the police had prior information that a terrorist group was to enter Ahmedabad to create disturbances, it knew the identity of its members; perhaps it followed their movement from Mumbai itself, all along the route.

We do not know the truth. But it is probable that the Ahmedabad police simply intercepted the car, took the occupants into custody and shot them in cold blood. Thus it staged the fake encounter to invent the story of a “fourth” attempt by the Pakistani/Muslim terrorists to kill Modi. 

Perhaps they were all terrorists but this visit was no more than a reconnaissance mission for the benefit of the two LeT Pakistani militants. The police has not claimed that these two Pakistanis had come earlier or accompanied Javed and Ishrat on their earlier visit.

Taken everything together, it is impossible not to reach the conclusion that this was not a real encounter but a fake encounter staged for the benefit of the beleaguered CM, because human life has no value in the eyes of the Gujarat police. This is not the first case of wanton, extra-judicial killing by Ahmedabad police (Crime Branch), in recent times, always at the hands of the same select group of sharpshooters.

Thankfully the NHRC has taken suo moto notice of this grave violation of human rights and sought a report from the state government.

Thankfully, nearly all political parties have demanded a CBI inquiry. 

The “owning” of Ishrat Jahan and Javed Shaikh by the Pakistani terrorist outfit LeT does not absolve the police.

The story is the same all over the country. Extra-judicial execution by the security forces, police, para-military or armed forces. I call it ‘state terrorism’, which has become the major factor in keeping the fires of militancy and insurgency glowing everywhere. 

When will the Indian police learn that the State has no right to kill a person, even a criminal or a terrorist, a citizen or a foreigner, without due process of law? In a democracy, the police cannot serve as judge and executioner.«


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