India’s Intelligence Agencies Should Be Investigated For Terror Attacks
On 11 August, 2014, “The Indian Express” published a story headlined, “Cleared by SC, but they still fear the midnight police knock”. Let me start directly with an excerpt from that story for which the reporter visited six former accused nearly three months after the Supreme Court had acquitted them overturning their earlier convictions by a Gujarat trial court in a terror case.
The six men, all Muslims, had been accused of being conspirators of a terror attack by two gunmen at Akshardham Temple at Gujarat’s capital city, Gandhinagar, on 24 September 2002 who had killed 33 people. This is what Adam Ajmeri, an accused who the lower court had sentenced to death and who spent 11 years in prison before the apex court acquitted him, told The Indian Express:
“When I walked out of jail and went to New Delhi for a press conference, police took my son to the police station and questioned him about me. They later called me to the police station and asked me question after question,” Ajmeri said, sitting outside his shanty at Shahpur.
He said he was questioned about links with terrorists who had been shot down and how the Akshardham attack had been planned. “They claimed it is part of the procedure to call the acquitted to the police station. After the first round, I was called again. My wife was questioned a few days back about what I am doing. There has been no respite,” he said.
Qayyum [Mufti Abdul Qayyum Mansuri alias Mufti Baba], who too served 11 years, had been charged with writing letters the crime branch claimed to have found in the pockets of terrorists killed, but the Supreme Court noted that the bodies had a number of bullet wounds while the letters had no bloodstains, mud or bullet holes…
While [Altaf Malek, who was released in 2008 after serving his five-year term] was in Mumbai recently with Mufti, Ajmeri and Sheikh for a press conference organised by Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Hind, his family was questioned about his absence, his wife and brother said. “The SC gave us a clean chit and the terrorist label has been removed, but the Gujarat police have become more aggressive,” said Malek, who used to work for an advertising agency in Riyadh and runs a small fabrication business now.
DSP R G Desai, who was Shahpur inspector when Malek was released, confirmed, “Yes, we called the Akshardharm accused to the police station. It was done as part of procedure to ask about case details after their release. We have been told by the authorities to keep a watch on such accused.”
Before I expand on my main argument, let me briefly draw the reader’s attention to one word the police officer quoted in the last para. The DSP uses the word “accused” to refer to the six men, nearly three months after the SC acquitted them. How are they still the accused? He also shies from using the word “acquittal” and prefers “release” in its place. And the last sentence - we have been told by the authorities to keep a watch on such accused - is stunningly honest. It means that the Supreme Court verdict be damned, for the rest of their lives these men will always remain tainted as the “accused” for the police.
It is no small irony that their acquittal by the SC came on 16 May, the very day - indeed, the very hour - that then Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi won his Bharatiya Janata Party a landslide win in the Lok Sabha election and set himself up to become India’s prime minister. Five days later, this is what The Indian Express reported on the Akshardham acquittals:
Gujarat Police gave him the “choice” of being implicated in the Godhra train burning, Haren Pandya murder and Akshardham terror, one of the men acquitted by the Supreme Court in the temple attack case alleged on Tuesday.
Mohammed Saleem was eventually sentenced to life under POTA for involvement in the Akshardham case.
On May 16, the day Prime Minister designate Narendra Modi won his historic mandate, the Supreme Court set Saleem and five others free, pulling up the Gujarat Police for framing innocent people, and blaming the then home minister - Modi - for “non-application of mind”. Four of the six men had already spent over 10 years in jail.
“I had been working in Saudi Arabia for 13 years, when they picked me up alleging there was a problem with my passport. They beat me brutally - I still have scars on my back, and I suffered a fracture in my foot. They asked me which case I wanted to be charged under - Akshardham, Haren Pandya or Godhra. I did not know what to say,” Saleem told a press conference addressed by five of the six men in Delhi.
Saleem’s daughter was born four months after his arrest. He picked her up in his arms for the first time only after his release - the child is 10 years old now.
The world of Abdul Qaiyum Muftisaab Mohammed Bhai alias Mufti Abdul Qaiyum has changed completely in the 11 years that he spent in jail. His father is dead, and his family no longer lives in their old home. His acquittal by the Supreme Court, Qaiyum said, was “mere release from prison; justice had been buried at every moment in these 11 years”.
Qaiyum said the main charge against him was that two letters recovered from the two fidayeen killed in the terror attack had been written by him. He was framed, Qaiyum alleged.
“For three days and nights, they made me copy a letter that they had given me. They (the police) would bring an expert each day to check whether I had copied it well. They would ask me to copy the turns and twists of the Urdu letters so that they looked exactly the same as in the letter. I was very afraid, and did what they told me to do,” he said. “Then they claimed in court that I had written the letters.”
For most readers, and perhaps even for the reporter, the story is a shocking tale of injustice and misery the fabricated case has caused the accused and their families for all the years before being acquitted. But the real question that needs to be asked here is: if these accused did not commit that crime, then who did?
Indeed, in case after terror case in India in which Muslims have been accused of committing the gravest crimes they have been overwhelmingly found to be innocent either by the trial courts or by higher courts. One of a very important such cases is that of the murder of former Gujarat home minister Haren Pandya in 2003, the only RSS-BJP stalwart politician in the state who was a real challenger to Modi and was therefore a thorn in the eye of the latter. It is a matter of record that the dead man’s father openly accused Modi of having a hand in his son’s killing.
The state police, however, had already arrested a bunch of Muslims and accused them of killing Pandya. It took eight years for the Gujarat High Court to overturn the trial court’s guilty verdict. The question again is: who killed Haren Pandya? To paraphrase a popular Hindi movie in recent years, No One Killed Haren Pandya.
Then there are the many cases of bombings across India, notably in various cities of U.P. and Maharashtra, apart from high-profile bombings in Hyderabad, Bangalore and New Delhi over the last decade. Most such cases have dragged on for years, keeping the accused in prison without even a hope for bail (ironic that Swami Aseemanand has been given bail on the plea that the case is stretching for far too long).
Let me pick out one such case: the bombing in February 1998 that year in Coimbatore town of Tamil Nadu in which 65 people were killed. The bombing had occurred on the eve of a visit to the town by the BJP leader L K Advani a couple of days before the nation voted to elect a new government. (The BJP had stormed to power at the head of a coalition.) Of the dozens of people who were accused in that case, the most prominent name was that of the Kerala leader, Abdul Nasir Maudani. He spent nine years in prison, during which a bomb attack left him wheelchair-bound. Finally, he was acquitted as were all others. The real culprits behind the Coimbatore bombing were never found. Or should we say that No One Bombed Coimbatore? Meanwhile, Maudani has been accused (framed?) in another case of bombing -- this time in Bangalore, in 2010.
Having read the chargesheet in the case as also having studied the defense in detail, I can say with reasonable certainty that this case, too, would go against the prosecution and eventually lead to Maudani’s release.
The point, therefore, is: if no one is ever found guilty of all the bombings across India, then who has been behind it? It is about time that we as news journalists, human rights activists and concerned citizens began asking this question. And we need to directly ask: is it possible that various arms of the State - the police; the opaque, secretive and totally unaccountable intelligence agencies; the counterinsurgency ops - themselves organize such bombings as false flag operations in order to carry out yet newer suspects in a bid to keep millions of Indian citizens in a constant state of fear so that they don’t question the State’s push to enact more and more draconian laws and arm itself to the teeth? No, this is not some conspiracy theory by a nut case. The security business around the world is worth tens of billions of dollars.
Last month’s standoff between the public and the police force in the Ferguson suburb of Missouri state in the US has brought to public focus the incredible levels of arming of the police. A similar push is on in India, too, with American, European and Israeli companies aggressively to up the ante on the sales of arms and ammunitions for the purpose of internal security. Even B and C category towns in India are now buying up metal detectors, x-ray machines and CCTVs to install at public places. This in itself is translating into billions of dollars of contracts.
Even so, a bigger and more compelling reason to seek a thorough inquiry into the possible complicity of India’s police, intelligence and security agencies in the dirty business of bombings is made from the arrests of police officers in Gujarat for the killings of Muslims in what have come to be known as “fake encounters”. The charge-sheet in at least one case has named the BJP’s current president and Modi’s Man Friday, Amit Shah, as an accused. The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), which is prosecuting the case, has also named a number of officials from the Intelligence Bureau. Certainly, the charges are yet to be proved. But the circumstantial evidences in the case (and in other fake encounter cases, too) are compelling.
During a period of about four years beginning in late 2002, a clutch of police officers in Ahmedabad, Gujarat’s largest city, periodically intercepted alleged terrorists, claimed to have been sent by the Pakistan-based anti-Indian terror group, Lashkar-e-Toiba, to eliminate Modi, who was then Gujarat’s chief minister.
According to Shamshad Pathan, a lawyer who’s fighting many of these cases, a total of 17 peoplewere killed, including one Hindu named Tulsi Prajapati, who was the last to be killed before it was spectacularly revealed that all these killings had been fake encounters, or extrajudicial killings done in cold blood.
The most famous of these cases has been that of Ishrat Jahan, a 19-year-old woman who was shot dead on 15 June 2004 in Ahmedabad with three other men she was traveling with in a car. In that case, an Ahmedabad magistrate’s inquiry in 2009 found that the encounter was indeed fake. Following an appeal by the Gujarat government against that report, the Gujarat High court set a Special Investigation Team (SIT) of police officers who, too, exposed in 2011 that the encounter had indeed been fake. Whereupon, the high court asked the CBI to take over its prosecution.
Now logic tells us that if those the police were killing had indeed been sent by LeT from Pakistan, then the arrest of these police officers should have emboldened the terror group to send more terrorists! After all, its designs had been frustrated by these very police officers every time. What could be better for LeT than the removal of these police officers from the scene? But the truth is that the terror group in Pakistan stopped sending terrorists right after the police officers’ arrests!
Common sense and basic logical thinking also begets several other questions. Why do these so-called Indian Islamic or jihadist terrorists bomb so rarely? Most perplexingly, they rarely ever choose to attack the arms of the State, most notably the police, that has been giving them grief. Jamia Teachers’ Solidarity Association (JTSA), led by Jamia Milia Islamia professor Manisha Sethi, has ably documented how the Special Cell of Delhi Police has been severely castigated by courts in fabricating evidence and framing innocents in terror cases. And yet, the bombings have never targeted the Special Cell. (No, this is not a call to bomb the Special Cell, but a call for simple deductive reasoning.)
If you travel through the Maoist insurgency areas of Chhattisgarh you will find the police stations so fortified as if they are in a war zone. But Delhi Police, or police in any of the states where the terrorists have been active, have felt no need to secure themselves at all. Just why wouldn’t the terrorists be interested in attacking the symbols of State?
Then, the periodicity of bombings is also most dubious. Most cities see only one bombing in a year or sometimes in two years. What political motive can there be behind such sporadic bombings? After all, if indeed terror groups are active in India, then they would try and maximize their impact by repeatedly indulging in such acts. A walk back into Punjab of the 1980s would make that point relatable. The Sikh separatists who’d turned into armed militants attacked much more regularly and targeted symbols of State power rather than lob one bomb a year.
And the most perplexing of all is the motive for such bombings. Ever since the police have taken to fingering “Indian Mujahideen” for terror attacks, we have been told that the group’s motive is to seek revenge for the 1992 demolition of the Babri Masjid by Hindu zealots in Ayodhya and the killing of Muslims by Hindutva mobs in February-March 2002 in Gujarat. If that indeed is true, it would make the Indian Mujahideen the world’s only terror group that has no political objective but only one of revenge. It is also the world’s and history’s only terrorist group with no identifiable geographical location. Experts around the world will tell you that terrorist groups are known to have (1) a marked political objective, (2) a geographical location of their existence and influence, (3) a clear idea of who they’re targeting through their action, and (4) regular attacks. Be it the former LTTE in Sri Lanka, or FARC in Colombia or even the “Islamic State” in Syria and Iraq, they all have met or meet these attributes. But the so-called “Indian Mujahideen” has yet not met any of these attributes and is unlikely to do so. All that the police do is arrest some Muslim youth across the country and accuse them of terror acts in the past and the future. The same police that are regularly attacked and killed by the Maoists and are in constant panic over threats from the rebels in the forests become super smart and competent to arrest Muslim terrorists with nary a gunfight, leave alone casualties. (The Batla House encounter of September 2009 is not a valid case cited by those who disagree as no independent inquiry has every been made into that incident as we have long been demanding.)
The fact of the matter is that the police as well as the intelligence agencies have long operated with impunity and zero accountability. The intelligence agencies especially have no oversight, unlike in the US where they have to at least report to Congressional committees. One ordinary man’s demand for a probe into the killing of his brother in a fake encounter unravelled the obnoxious and repulsive regime of corrupt police officers. A similar effort needs to get underway to investigate the police and intelligence agencies across India into their possible role in the bombings for which hundreds of innocent Muslims have been arrested and sent to prisons to rot away.