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Published in the 16-31 May 2004 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

Khwaja Yunus
Bombay police stage-managed his “encounter”

Maharashtra State CID, investigating the Khwaja Yunus murder case, is believed to have blamed Mumbai crime branch constables and said that it is they who impersonated Khwaja Yunus and stage-managed the escape drama on January 7, 2003.


Mumbai: Sources in the Maharshtra State CID said that a constable, clad in plainclothes with face covered with burqa, had accompanied assistant inspector Sachin Vaze and three constables from the police lock-up in Powai to a van parked in the vicinity on January 6, 2003. This was done in order to corroborate the "escape story’’ offered by the police next day.

Khwaja Yunus

Khwaja Yunus, 26, was picked up from Aurangabad by the Mumbai police in December 2002 in connection with the December 2, 2002, bomb blast in a BEST bus in Ghatkopar. He was booked under the Prevention of Terrorism Act . On January 7, 2003, Yunus allegedly escaped when a jeep taking him to Aurangabad crashed. Assistant inspector Sachin Vaze, who was escorting Yunus, said he had fled the scene.

API Vaze claimed: "A police team including three constables and myself was taking Yunus to Aurangabad from Mumbai for investigations on January 7, when the van in which they were travelling met with an accident in Parner area of Ahmednagar district. While the cops were injured in the accident, Yunus escaped.’’ Vaze expressed helplessness at the time of accident and said: "I was unable to prevent Yunus from escaping.’’

However, investigators from the state CID now debunk this story. Sources in the department said that Yunus died in custody while being interrogated by API Vaze. 

According to statements of co-accused, including Dr Abdul Mateen, the police officer assaulted Yunus’ chest with boots, leading to a cardiac rupture. The state CID has arrested Vaze in the case, but they are yet to arrest four constables, including the one who impersonated Yunus. The investigators are under pressure from the POTA court to arrest the four at the earliest.

Defense counsel Majeed Memon said "The state CID has registered a case under section 331 of IPC which deals with ‘extracting confession using torture’. They should not just restrict the case to API Vaze, but also ascertain the role of other crime branch officers. They have concocted the escape story and have abetted in the murder.”

The Bombay high court has directed the POTA special judge to ‘‘apply his mind’’ and initiate action against police officials, who misled the court by supporting the false First Information Report filed by assistant police inspector Sachin Vaze.

The division bench of Justice S Radhakrishnan and Justice R S Mohite also gave orders to the state Crime Investigation Department (CID) to close Vaze’s FIR as investigations had found the complaint to be maliciously false.

The court directed the POTA court to "take criminal action’’, if necessary, against assistant commissioner Ambadas Pote and inspector Arun Borude. Court ordered criminal prosecution, if necessary, against all those officers who supported Vaze’s claim that blast accused Khwaja Yunus had escaped from custody on January 7, 2003. 

Borude deposed in the case last year, supporting Vaze’s version of events. Pote had signed on Vaze’s first information report (FIR) on Yunus’s ‘escape’. The FIR, called ‘‘maliciously false’’ by the court, has been closed. Borude had also arrested another blast accused, Zahir Ahmed Basheer Ahmed, who walked free in mid-April after the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA) Review Committee found insufficient evidence for trial. Under Section 58 of POTA, any policeman exercising powers corruptly, knowing there are no reasonable grounds for proceedings under POTA is punishable with two years in prison or a fine or both.

It appears that the desperation of some crime branch officers to extract a confession from 27-year-old Khwaja Yunus, an engineering graduate, in the Ghatkopar blast case has proved to be their undoing. 

Mateen and co-accused Sheikh Muzammil refused to succumb to torture during their interrogation, sources said. To date, they have not given the police any confessions. But Mateen informed the POTA court that during the interrogations, he had overheard an officer shouting at Yunus and then saying, "Yeh aise nahin bolega" (He won't talk this way). Mateen saw Yunus being dragged into another room. When Yunus returned, he was vomiting blood, Mateen said. Mateen is a medical doctor with masters in forensic medicine.

"A close examination of Yunus suggested that he was assaulted by boots and this may have led to a cardiac rupture, leading to his death a few hours later," Mateen told the court. 

Earlier, Mateen had testified as a witness in murder cases that ended in convictions. Mateen's statements now assume significance as they have been converted into a First Information Report (FIR) by the Bombay high court. Mateen also stated that when Yunus did not return to the lockup until late in the night on January 6, he had inquired into this with inspector Borude. "The cop threatened me and asked me not to report about the police assault and vomiting. He also said that Yunus 'bhaag gaya hai' (has escaped)." 

Later, Vaze filed a complaint claiming that Yunus had “escaped” from police custody while being taken to Aurangabad for questioning. The court has now directed the state CID to trace Yunus's body. 

Sources close to the families of the accused said the four were "illegally detained" in Mumbai and were days later shown as “arrested” on December 27, 2002. "They were abused and assaulted during the detention period," families said.

The police applied sections of POTA to the charges on January 3 (eight days after the official arrests) and produced the four before a special court. The judge remanded the four to police custody until January 17. Police sources have revealed that junior investigating officers were under "tremendous pressure" from superiors to extract confessions from the accused.

Yunus worked in a multinational company in Dubai and had come to his home in Parbhani in December 2002 in search of a bride.. But on December 23, he was picked up from his home along with three others, including Dr Abdul Mateen, who had been working at Mumbai’s JJ Hospital. 

Advocate Majeed Memon said the police had no evidence against Yunus. "He was based in Dubai and was the sole earning member of his family. He knew Mateen and two others as they hailed from the same town. He had nothing to do with the Lashkar-e-Toiba or the blast," Memon said, adding that after Yunus' mysterious disappearance, the police did not interrogate the fourth accused, electronics engineer Zaheer Sheikh. The state CID will proceed with investigations on the basis of this, charging Vaze under Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code for murder. 

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