Samad’s arrest divided Central, state HMs, ATS confused

New Delhi: Clueless investigators of the German Bakery blast had claimed a breakthrough on 24 May 2010 and in exchange they received congratulations from the Union Home Minister for their good job. Incidentally, they didn’t know that the claim of arresting Abdul Samad Bhatkal would soon prove embarrassing, and they will be facing the same dilemma which they had faced when family members of Samad, an alleged “terrorist” who was arrested by the police for planting the bomb at the Bakery on 13 February 2010, which claimed 17 lives and injured several others, had come forth with startling revelations and proof which speak for Bhatkal’s innocence including a video which showed that he was at home on that very day hundreds of miles away from Pune.

Days after his arrest, when Chidambaram applauded his boys, Anti Terrorist Squad (ATS) and central agencies, for cracking the case, Maharashtra’s Home Minister, RRPatil at the same time, i.e., on 24 May 2010, rejected to support the police claim that Samad is involved in the blast case and stated that “there is no connection between the accused (Samad) and the Pune case.” On the other hand, ATS Maharashtra remained tight-lipped and maintained that nothing could be said with certainty as facts are being ascertained whether he played any role in the blast or not. The ATS charged him with only the Arms Act. However, Chidambaram went to town claiming that Samad is the “prime accused” in Pune blast case. With the controversy triggering amongst investigators over Samad’s involvement, Chidambaram changed his tune saying that Samad Bhatkal is not a “prime suspect.” This change occured only seven days ater the Home Minister had complimented his security agencies on 1 June 2010.
Shockingly, following the arrest ATS produced Samad before a Mumbai magistrate not for Bakery case but for fire-arms case of the last year when a small recovery of arms case had surfaced in Mumbai’s Byculla area. Maharashtra ATS chief, Rakesh Maria, following the controversy did not react and remained silent on the entire issue. Family members of Samad trashed all police claims when they came with the video clip of a wedding where Bhatkal was present on the day of Pune blast. He was shown in the video clip participating in the marriage party sitting with bride holding a plate in his hand. His family said that their son is being framed in the case. They questioned: how it is possible that a person could be present at both places on the same date. Mother of the alleged terrorist, Bibi Rehana, while pleading innocence of her son said that “My son is innocent. He can’t commit such a heinous crime. He has nothing to do even with arms case he has been falsely charged with.”

Mohammad Yakub, uncle of Samad, had many reasons to reject the police claims. According to him, Samad was busy with the marriage function since 8 February 2010 while the blast happened on 13 February. “He has no criminal record and we are all shocked on his arrest. We have evidence to prove that our son is innocent and that he is being framed as a terrorist, says Yakub. He further said that, “Samad was in Bhatkal at that time. Actually he has an elder brother, Mohammad Ahmad whom the police projected as Yasin Bhatkal who is absconding since last four years in Dubai. The fact is that he had disappeared after a rift with his family. We don’t know whether Yasin was killed in an encounter or was hiding due to the fear of police.”

In 2008, for his role in the Bangalore blasts, state police had held Samad on the basis of information by two persons accused in the case. The accused duo denied any information about Yasin Bhatkal but told police that they knew his step-brother Samad Bhatkal. However, Samad did not confess to any involvement in the blast and police had to eat humble pie. That was the first humiliation to the police for arresting Samad and pronouncing him guilty.
A highly placed ATS Maharashtra official was quoted by the media as saying that the resemblance of CCTV footage’s image, which showed a man planting a bomb at the German Bakery, with Samad’s facial appearance is “great”. It clearly suggests that ATS people are not even satisfied with the probe. Maharashtra ATS and intelligence agencies differed with each other’s claims. The police officer admitted that “we are trying to verify if he is the same man, but at this stage it is not certain that he was the bomber/ planter.” Shamefully, our intelligence and police by saying that “it is not certain” demonstrates their inefficiency in cracking the terror case. It is inexcusable to say that “we are verifying”. Samad’s name had not cropped up in any police and intelligence investigation since the blast took place. Police, from the beginning, were saying that Yasin Bhatkal had orchestrated the blast but how it came to know suddenly that Samad had executed it?

From day one of his arrest, police had been claiming that the brother of IM founder Yasin Bhatkal was nabbed for alleged links with the blast. However, counter-terrorism officials have now a different story to offer: that they are looking into the possibility of Yasin Bhatkal and Samad, being brothers, resemble each other.
On 3 June 2010, a news report quoting government sources said that Samad was forced by Indian agencies in coordination with UAE intelligence agencies to board Air India’s Dubai-Mangalore flight on 24 May 2010, a day before his three months visa was to expire. But the family of the accused says that his return ticket also was booked. This new claim came after the lapse of ten days on his arrest. Samad’s relatives alleged that his visa was issued by Dubai authorities on 25 March 2010.

Investigators have also failed in getting any lead from Bhatkal’s call records. Despite several attempts made to find details of people who have been in contact with him on the basis of a mobile phone connection he is believed to have used prior to October 2008 when the police first got the trail have yielded no results. Top police sources revealed that “Call records for the number he used until 2008 have shown that his received and dialed numbers list only feature numbers for service providers or telephone booths. He seems to have camouflaged his telephone trail.” Our Home Minister without wasting any time, when Maharashtra police rejoiced over the arrest of Bhatkal, had sent greetings to his inefficient police and intelligence agencies should have waited a little to get more details from his boys which would have saved his face.

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 16-30 June 2010 on page no. 11

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