Evidence put 7/11 Mumbai blasts accused on loss of life row; now NIA, intelligence and police information are questioning that proof

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In maybe essentially the most weird story to ever emerge from India’s legal justice system, 5 harmless males could also be on loss of life row — whereas those that carried out the 2006 Mumbai practice bombings, a few of them in jail, have by no means been prosecuted for his or her crime.

Early one summer time morning in 2006, 5 males gathered inside a dingy house within the Deccan Cooperative Society in Sewri, on the japanese fringes of South Mumbai. The males busied themselves moulding a black, plasticky goo, its texture not dissimilar to the Play-Doh 1000’s of kindergarten youngsters would have been amusing themselves with at across the similar time. Their work was achieved earlier than lunchtime: 35 kg of ammonium-nitrate explosive gel had been packed inside stress cookers, together with detonators linked to little plastic alarm clocks, every set to six.30 pm.

“I would go first with one bag to Churchgate, and keep the bag in the First Class compartment,” one of many males later instructed the National Investigation Agency, in a categorized interrogation [1]. “I would get down at Marine Lines station, and then go back to Churchgate.  Next, Atif would leave with two bags, and also come back to Churchgate. Abu Rashid and Sajid will take one bag each and keep the bags in the selected trains. Finally, Shahnawaz would come to Churchgate with two bags, and we would put both of them in the trains”.

“Everything went as planned”: 209 individuals have been killed, and over 700 injured, excess of on 26/11.

In just a few weeks, the world will have the ability to see The Mauritanian — director Kevin McDonald’s wrenching telling of the story of Mohamedou Ould Salahi, tortured and imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay for 14 years for crimes he didn’t commit. The story of the 7/11 Five illustrates, as nothing else might, that this hell is nearer to dwelling than we think about.

***

Five years in the past, a court docket sentenced Kamal Sheikh, Faisal Ansari, Ehtesham Siddiqui, Naveed Khan and Asif Khan to loss of life for his or her position within the bombing of Mumbai’s suburban practice system on 11 July 2006 — among the many most savage acts of mass-casualty terrorism on the earth. Seven different conspirators have been handed down life sentences; only one alleged perpetrator, Wahid Sheikh, was acquitted. For the a whole bunch of households torn aside by one of many world’s most deadly terrorist assaults, the legislation appeared to have lastly introduced closure.

Except, there are these disquieting information: In judicial proceedings, and in categorized inside paperwork, some being made public by Firstpost as we speak, the National Investigations Agency, Andhra Pradesh’s élite counter-terrorism police unit OCTOPUS, and even the Maharashtra Government, have mentioned the assault was carried out by completely completely different perpetrators.

In maybe essentially the most weird story to ever emerge from India’s legal justice system, 5 harmless males could also be on loss of life row — whereas those that carried out the assault, a few of them in jail, have by no means been prosecuted for his or her crime.

The trial of the 7/11 Five was constructed round proof gathered by the Mumbai Police’s Anti-Terrorism Squad within the weeks after the bombings. In essence, the ATS mentioned the bombings have been carried out by a crew made up of the 7/11 Five, together with Pakistani Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorists introduced by Ansari by way of Nepal. The bombs have been assembled in a house in Govandi, the ATS mentioned; one of many Pakistanis concerned, Faisalabad resident Muhammad Ali, was killed by police in a shootout on Antop Hill.

Although the ATS case aroused some scepticism even in 2006, most noticed no motive to problem the police account. Then, in November 2007, an e-mail arrived in newsrooms throughout India, claiming accountability for a string of bombings on behalf of an until-then unknown organisation referred to as the Indian Mujahideen: at Varanasi in March 2006; Hyderabad in August 2007; 7/11. The e-mails forged the bombings as reprisals for anti-Muslim communal violence in India, within the mould of the 1993 assaults in Mumbai.

The Indian Mujahideen e-mails continued to reach after the brand new assault, generally inside minutes of an explosion. In one, issued after the bombings at Ahmedabad on 26 July 2008, the organisation claimed to be “raising the illustrious banner of jihad against the Hindus and all those who fight and resist us, and here we begin our revenge with the help and permission of Allah — a terrifying revenge of our blood, our lives and our honour that will, Insha-Allah [God-willing], terminate your survival on this land”.

Like many within the law-enforcement group, the ATS had at first ignored the Indian Mujahideen’s 7/11 declare, writing it off as a hoax. Then, in 2008, Delhi Police investigators stumbled right into a firefight with Indian Mujahideen operatives hidden out at New Delhi’s Batla House — and the actual insights into the internal workings of the jihadist started to emerge.

From a one-time air-conditioning technician referred to as Sadiq Israr Sheikh, held quickly after the Batla House shootout, police forces throughout the nation would come to be taught that nearly all the things they thought in regards to the bombings, and about 7/11, was incorrect.

***

In the summer time of 2012, the NIA started what would develop into India’s most thoroughgoing investigation of the Indian Mujahideen, an nearly archaeological examination of the group’s genesis and metastasis [2]. Led by Superintendents of Police Vikas Vaibhav and Swayam Prakash Pani, the investigation focussed on the Indian Mujahideen’s prime management, amongst them jihadists Riyaz Shahbandri and Muhammad Ahmed Siddibapa. Although it centred on occasions after 2008, the investigation additionally sought to offer a full account of the terrorist group’s operations throughout time.

Even although the NIA’s case didn’t look at the Mumbai practice assaults — for the reason that case was already being prosecuted — its investigators got here throughout compelling proof that the 7/11 Five had nothing to do with bombings.

“Investigation has established,” a chargesheet filed in 2013 information [3a, 3b], “that the accused Asadullah Akhtar was aware about the participation of the members of his group in the Indian Mujahideen in the blasts at Sarojini Nagar, Delhi, in 2005, Mumbai train blasts in 2006, Gorakhpur blasts in 2007 and UP court blasts in 2007”.

“The Mumbai train blasts (2006),” the chargesheet goes on, “were carried out by by Indian Mujahideen operatives including but not limited to Sadiq Sheikh, Bada Sajid [‘Big’ Sajid, a nickname for Mohammad Sajid], Atif Ameen and Abu Rashid”.

Asadullah Akhtar’s testimony supported long-standing suspicions some state police forces, below intense political stress to indicate outcomes, had merely framed suspects. The Delhi Police, for instance, had charged Kashmir resident Tariq Dar, together with Mohammad Rafiq Shah and Mohammad Fazli, for executing the Sarojini Nagar bombing — expenses of which they have been ultimately acquitted in 2017.

The Uttar Pradesh Police, equally, had arrested Mohammad Waliullah, a cleric at a mosque in Phulpur, on expenses of getting carried out the 2006 Varanasi bombing. He was convicted for the possession of unlawful weapons, however his position within the bombing was — on reflection, unsurprisingly — never proved.

Evidence suggesting the innocence of the 7/11 Five had, actually, begun to mount lengthy earlier than the NIA started its investigation. In 2008, a categorized file ready by Andhra Pradesh’s élite OCTOPUS — on the time, the best-resourced counter-terrorism police for in India — underlined startling similarities between the bombs used within the 7/11 assaults and people set off by the Indian Mujahideen in prior and subsequent bombings [4]. In all these circumstances, the bomb-makers used a Samay-brand mechanical clock, fitted with an extra 9-volt battery because the timer, linking it to 2 detonators.

Like authors, bomb-makers have distinctive stylistic signatures: strategies that they know, by way of expertise, to be dependable. The Indian Mujahideen, OCTOPUS recorded, “developed delayed clock timers fully relying on commonly-used cheap clocks. The timer expert of the Indian Mujahideen experimented with Ajanta clocks, digital clocks and China watches. All failed [but the] Samay watch experiment turned out to be successful”. “As a practice,” the doc states, “they used red/yellow/brown wires for the positive wires and white/black wire for the negative terminal”.

First used within the Indian Mujahideen’s assault on Delhi’s Sarojini Nagar on 29 October 2005, the Samay circuit triggered 3 kg of the explosive pentaerythritol tetranitrate, fitted inside two stress cookers and a steel lunch field. For their subsequent strike, at Varanasi on 7 March 2006, the machine was equivalent, although hard-to-obtain PETN was substituted with commercially-available ammonium nitrate, a chemical broadly utilized in mining and building, in addition to in agriculture.

The Indian Mujahideen solely as soon as experimented with another timer, utilizing electrically-erasable programmable read-only reminiscence, for 27 improvised explosive gadgets planted in Surat on 26 July 2008. The bombs fizzled — main the organisation to revert to Samay clocks for subsequent assaults.

PTI/File Photo of the 2006 Mumbai practice bombings

For essentially the most half, although, police investigators didn’t want forensic proof to be persuaded of the reality of what had occurred on 7/11. Atif Ameen had died within the Batla House shootout, whereas Mohammad Sajid, Abu Rashid Ahmad and Shahnawaz Alam fled to Pakistan after which to the Islamic State, the place they might be killed in combating.

In jail, although, there was one man who might inform the reality.

***

The unusually intimate dialog Sadiq Israr Sheikh had with a Gujarat Police officer one afternoon in 2008 — a dialog that, although videotaped, can not by legislation be used as proof in his legal prosecution — provides us perception not simply into what occurred on 7/11, however why. His story wasn’t uncommon: Born in 1975, the Indian Mujahideen grew up in Cheeta Camp, a mission set as much as accommodate slum residents displaced by the development of the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre. His father had offered his 5 bighas of land in Azamgarh and moved to Mumbai, the place he ran a small retailer.

In 1992, Sheikh claimed, his world modified. “Before the Babri Masjid was demolished,” he mentioned, “my inclination was towards Communism; I was Communist-minded. Before that I was nationalist-minded, because the locality in Bombay where I lived was a defence services area”.

Then, “after the Babri Masjid demolition and riots, my mentality changed and I turned towards my religion. And because I was upset, in 1996, I joined SIMI”. There, he recalled, “the pain that had taken root in my heart after the Babri Masjid episode got nurtured”.

Large numbers of younger Mumbai Muslims had turned to the Students Islamic Movement of India round this time — and never only for the apparent causes. For Sheikh, SIMI supplied an escape from the grim realities of life in Cheeta Camp. “I used to pick fights, both at home and outside, which bothered my parents. So I thought I should get into the company of good people.” “I could have also joined the Jama’at,” he ruminated, referring to the pietist Tablighi Jama’at order, “but those people become complete mullahs — they are not concerned about the world”.

Even although Sheikh by no means earned a high-school diploma, dropping out of the Saboo Siddiqui College in Byculla, he did achieve constructing some foundations for all times. In 2000, having obtained an air-conditioning qualification from a technical institute in Dongri, he apprenticed with Godrej, doing properly sufficient to be supplied full-time job. Less than a 12 months later, although, the Godrej plant moved to Mohali, in Punjab, and Sheikh discovered himself at a free finish.

Intelligence Bureau interrogators have — in a categorized doc that’s inadmissible for legal proceedings — recorded the story of what occurred subsequent [1]. The Sheikh household acquired a go to from a Hyderabad-based relative, Mujahid Salim Azmi — the son of a distinguished cleric, later killed in a controversial encounter by the Gujarat Police. The two males discovered frequent floor of their anger in opposition to anti-Muslim communalism in India, and their shared perception that jihadism was the group’s salvation.

Following these conversations, Salim launched Sheikh to Asif Raza Khan, a ganglord-turned-jihadist who was then within the means of organising what would develop into the Indian Mujahideen. Asif Reza Khan, in flip, organized for Sheikh to fly to Karachi in February 2001, armed with faux journey paperwork. He mentioned he acquired coaching on the Lashkar-e-Taiba’s Umm-ul-Qura camp, close to Muzaffarabad in Pakistan occupied Kashmir, after which took a sophisticated course at a camp in Bahawalpur.

In 2002, in accordance with Sheikh’s testimony, he participated in his first terrorist motion — an assault on the US consulate in Kolkata, carried out to avenge the killing of Asif Raza Khan in a shootout with police.

Later that 12 months, Amir Raza Khan, the brother of Asif Raza Khan, supplied him a job in Dubai. His co-workers included Riyaz Shahbandri, a buddy from the SIMI conferences he attended in 1996, who would go on to develop into the Indian Mujahideen’s boss.

From September 2004, the group started its struggle: The most profitable city terrorism marketing campaign ever performed by a terrorist group in India. For the following 4 years, Indian police forces and intelligence teams chased the shadows of the perpetrators — every time discovering themselves at dead-ends.

***

Evidence on Sadiq Sheikh’s position in 7/11 started to often seem in courts throughout the nation by late 2008, as state police forces’ investigations into the Indian Mujahideen moved ahead to prosecution. In an announcement to the Delhi Police’s Special Cell on 20 November 2008, for instance, Sheikh mentioned he and Atif Ameen had “prepared the bombs which were kept in three local trains in Mumbai in 2006” [5]. “I had kept bombs at Rly [Railway] station, Churchgate, Mumbai, on luggage carrier [sic., throughout]. Atif went to Mangalore and brought the explosives from Riyaz Bhatkal.”

Law-enforcement officers throughout the nation started to ask questions on key parts of the ATS’ 7/11 investigation — even questioning whether or not the Govandi chawl it had recognized as a bomb-factory actually had sufficient house to assemble the seven explosive gadgets.

Former Director-General of Police Rakesh Maria, then main the investigation into the Indian Mujahideen assaults by Mumbai’s Crime Branch, recorded a confessional assertion from Sheikh, detailing his position within the 7/11 bombings [6]. A second, supporting confessional assertion was obtained from his affiliate, Arif Badruddin Sheikh [7].

The Crime Branch quickly found its work wasn’t welcome. The charge-sheet it filed indicting Sheikh, earlier than 7/11 particular decide YD Shinde, stays unopened greater than a decade on. The causes for this inaction are nowhere recorded in writing, however aren’t laborious to guess: Neither then-chief ministers Vilasrao Deshmukh nor Ashok Chavan would have welcomed politically-damaging expenses the police might have framed harmless males. Home Minister P Chidambaram didn’t even reply to letters from the accused pointing to the inconsistencies and searching for a contemporary investigation.

For its half, ATS responded by claiming Sheikh had “fabricated his testimony” to exonerate the 7/11 Five — a mystifying proposition, since it might contain implicating himself and others in custody for the sake of males he had by no means met.

Even because the 7/11 trial went on, Maharashtra prosecutors started submitting paperwork in different terrorism-related circumstances involving the Indian Mujahideen for its serial bombing marketing campaign. In 2009, Additional Chief Secretary Chitkala Zutshi — then holding cost of the Home Department — granted permission to prosecute 2011 bombing accused Afzal Usmani below the Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act, pointing to the Indian Mujahideen position in a number of assaults focusing on Mumbai and different cities [8]. Former metropolis police chief Hasan Ghafoor, equally, granted sanction for Usmani’s prosecution [9].

These sanctions named Sadiq Israr Sheikh as a member of the Indian Mujahideen’s terror marketing campaign, urging the courts, because it have been, to consider all he had mentioned in regards to the group was true — with the one, single exception of seven/11.

The Bombay High Court is scheduled to listen to the appeals of the 2 members of the 7/11 Five who’ve filed appeals in opposition to their conviction. Three others have but to file appeals. The testimony of the numerous NIA and police officers who concluded that the 7/11 convicts had nothing to do with the bombings might, clearly, have a crucial bearing on the case — however it can take political will to open the gates for the entire fact to be instructed.

In April 2013, Sheikh appeared earlier than the 7/11 court docket, summoned by the defence to inform his story. He denied understanding the perpetrators, and claimed he had been tortured by the Crime Branch into confessing his position within the bombings. “The story that you say was given by the Crime Branch,” a defence lawyer prompt to him, “was not in fact a story but the factual position about the 7/11 railway blasts”.

He didn’t lie: “I do not want to answer this question” [10].

Five years after the 7/11 convictions, it’s time somebody does.

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