ASHISH KHETAN exposes the elaborate and cynical charade of the Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad to implicate a bunch of Muslim men in terrorist strikes aimed at members of their own community
BRIBED WITNESSES. Coerced statements. Deceit. These are elements of the shocking story of how the police built a case against nine Muslim men, accusing them of planting the four powerful bombs that tore through the communally sensitive town of Malegaon in central Maharashtra on 8 September 2006, killing 37 Muslims and injuring hundreds.
Hindutva extremist leader Swami Asimananda confessed before a magistrate that a group of RSS pracharaks were behind the terrorist attacks on Malegaon, the Samjhauta Express, Ajmer Sharif and Mecca Masjid (In the Words of a Zealot, TEHELKA, 15 January).
If it was a Hindutva terror plot, as it seems from Asimananda’s testimony, why were 12 other persons charged with the crime? Nine of them have been in jail for more than four years, while the other three have disappeared fearing police brutality, abandoning their homes and families.
The police records accessed by TEHELKA show that two key accused — Noorul Huda and Shabbir Masiulla — were under constant police surveillance for at least a couple of months before the 2006 Malegaon blasts. Masiulla , who has been depicted as the mastermind, was actually in prison when the blasts took place.
The TEHELKA follow-up also shows that the conduct of the Special Task Force of the Central Bureau of Investigation, which took over the Malegaon probe from the Maharashtra Police in February 2007, has been highly malicious.
TEHELKA has also discovered that neither the Maharashtra Anit-Terrorism Squad (ATS) nor the CBI recorded the statements of any of the crucial witnesses — friends, relatives and neighbours of the alleged bombers — who could have provided alibis for the accused.
The ATS built its bogus case primarily on the basis of police interrogations, which all the accused have retracted since then. So it invoked the draconian Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act (MCOCA), under which police confessions are admissible in court. This effectively shut off the bail option for four years.
The ATS investigation was done under the supervision of the then ATS chief KP Raghuvanshi. When contacted by TEHELKA, Raghuvanshi put the onus on the CBI. “The case is now with the CBI. Only last year they had filed a supplementary chargesheet. You please check with the CBI,” said Raghuvanshi.
A senior CBI officer speaking on condition of anonymity told TEHELKA that it was very mischievous on the part of the ATS to book Malegaon terror suspects under MCOCA. “The ATS had obtained legally admissible confessions under MCOCA. Also they had claimed of finding traces of RDX in a suspect’s premises. It was very difficult for us to nullify their investigation until we had found a new track of investigation,” said the officer.
Whatever the reasons for the trap that was set by the police, this is a chilling story of malafide intent and elaborately cynical charades that shames the criminal justice system of our country and the lofty ideals of justice that it is meant to champion.
JANNATUNISSA, WIFE of key accused Abrar Ahmed Momin, on whose alleged testimony the Maharashtra ATS built its case, reveals a damning story of allurement and intimidation.
Momin had been disinherited by his father from the family businesses and properties and was thus hard-pressed for money. His wife says he turned approver for a hefty bribe paid by the ATS. The ATS had allegedly told Momin that the court would release him and he could then make a new beginning with the money given by the authorities.
Momin made a confession (which he later retracted) implicating himself and 11 other Muslims of Maharashtra. Nine of them are from Malegaon.
Breaking her silence on the ‘deal’ between her husband and the ATS, Jannatunissa said that for over three months after the 9 September 2006 blasts, the cops kept the couple locked up in different safe houses in Nashik and Indore.
Documents available with TEHELKA show that the ATS had tapped Momin’s mobile number for two months before he was shown as arrested. But in a malafide attempt to subvert the truth, the ATS did not obtain his call records that could have established his location during the period when, as Jannatunissa claims, Momin was in police detention in Nashik and Indore.
In an affidavit filed on 18 April 2009, Momin not only retracted the so-called confession, he also gave details of his and his wife’s detention. Until now, the CBI has not checked out the allegations of coercion and bribery.
The correspondence between Vodafone and the CBI available with TEHELKA shows that the CBI did not even try to obtain Momin’s call records until January 2010. By then it was too late, as the phone company is not required by law to maintain call data records for more than a year,
After being repeatedly rapped by the Bombay High Court for its failure to carry out any credible investigation into the 2006 Malegaon case, the CBI in a desperate and face-saving measure filed a supplementary chargesheet in the second week of February 2010. The only new ‘evidence’ in this was the correspondence between the ATS and the state Home Department seeking permission to tap Momin’s phone.
Sitting in her brother’s dingy one-room shanty where she now stays in Killa Mohalla, 30-year-old Jannatunissa breaks down every few minutes while talking about her hardships and her husband’s prolonged imprisonment.
“We were married for over seven years but I could not bear a child,” says Jannatunissa. “My father-in-law wanted my husband to remarry. When he resisted, my in-laws threw us out of the house and family business. With the help of my relatives and friends we built a one-room house in Bage Mahmood, Sangmeshwar (a locality in Malegaon). While he worked as an electrician, I used to run a small grocery shop from the house. Then the blasts happened. It was a Friday. My husband had gone to pray in the neighbourhood mosque, which is at least four km from the Hamidya mosque where the terror attack took place. Since we are followers of the Ahle Hadis sect, our prayers are held 15 minutes before those of other Muslim sects. My husband returned after the completing the prayers and said something is wrong as he could hear the explosions. He immediately left to check.”
In a clear move to deny Momin all verifiable and credible alibis, neither the ATS nor the CBI recorded the statements of all those who saw him at the mosque. He has been shown as one of the planters of the bomb that went off in the crowded Muslim neighbourhood of Mushawarat Chowk.
“For those three months while we were in Indore and Nashik, the policemen in plain clothes would regularly drop in. I felt good because there was never any shortage of money. My husband would not tell me much. He would only say that we would soon have more money than his father,” said Jannatunissa.
The couple were brought to Mumbai on 16 December 2006. The same day, Momin was shown as arrested. Five days later, the ruling Congress-NCP alliance, facing the ire of the Muslim community for the anti-Muslim prejudice and high-handedness exhibited by its police, announced that case would be transferred to the CBI.
The same day, in what smacks of a conspiracy, the ATS quietly filed the chargesheet against the nine arrested Muslims in a MCOCA court. On 30 December, the ATS said Momin had turned approver.
Thus any remaining hopes of a fair probe were scuttled when the ATS presented the CBI with a fait accompli.
BESIDES THIS trail of coerced confessions and manufactured evidence, the ATS case is also full of untenable and absurd theories.
In a curious stretch of imagination, a Malegaon Muslim named Shabbir Masiulla, who was arrested by the Mumbai crime branch on 11 August 2006, on charges of planning to attack Ganesh Visarjan processions in Mumbai, and who was in a Mumbai jail when the Malegaon blasts happened, was shown as the mastermind of the blasts (FIR No 1106/2006 registered at DCB CID Unit-7, Ghatkopar Mumbai).
The ATS claimed that in the last week of July 2006, Masiulla along with other accused had assembled the bombs and kept them in his factory godown in Malegaon from where he ran his business of assembling inverters and batteries. He allegedly planned to bomb the Muslim religious places of Malegaon on the occasion of Shab-e-barat, a religious festival that was scheduled on 8 September that year.
According to this patently untenable police theory, 28 days after his arrest, as per the plan laid out by Masiulla, his associates — among them Momin — exploded these bombs in a mosque, a cemetery and a crowded Muslim neighbourhood, killing 31 and injuring over 300.
If one were to believe the incredulous theory put out by the ATS, not only did Masiulla conceal information about the impending blasts even as he was subjected to sustained and torturous interrogation sessions by the Mumbai Crime Branch, his arrest did not deter his associates from going ahead with the alleged terror plot.
Then, instead of absconding after Masiulla’s arrest, they went about their lives for more than a month, without any fear that Masiulla would spill the beans or that the police might raid the godown and recover the bombs.
In a further stretch of imagination, the Ghatkopar Crime Branch FIR alleged that Masiulla had taken training in handling arms and explosives in May-August 2003 at a terror camp in Pakistan and was planning terror attacks on the occasion of Hindu festivals. The moot question is then why the Mumbai Crime Branch, which clearly considered him a dangerous terrorist, didn’t carry out a search of his residential and business premises including his godown when they arrested him from his Malegaon residence on 11 August.
After obtaining Masiulla’s police confession on 21 November 2006, the ATS dug up his godown on 10 December 2006 and brought back a sample of the soil. Later, it claimed that the forensic analysis revealed traces of RDX in the seized sample.
EACH OF the nine spurious arrests made by the ATS in the Malegaon case has also left in its wake a heart-rending story of destitution and misfortune.
In a narrow, squalid bylane of Jafar Nagar, one of the many sprawling slums in Malegaon, is the matchbox size house — built with bricks and sheets of tin — of 27-year-old Huda, who has been languishing in the jail for more than four years
Though it’s a Sunday, only Huda’s mother, his wife, sisters and a sister-in-law are home. His father and brothers are at work at the power looms where they work as daily wagers. “After working for over 14 hours a day, seven days a week, my husband and two sons collectively pull in a paltry sum of Rs. 5,000-5,500 per month,” says 50-year-old Hamida Bano.
Huda is the third in a family of nine. “Another son who was working at a watch repair shop recently lost his job. He was sacked because he was doing graduation and found it hard to give 14 hours at the shop along with his studies. But I am determined to educate my two younger ones. My youngest one is doing mechanical engineering from a Nashik college,” she says.
After TEHELKA’s exposé that the 2006 Malegaon blasts was carried out by a team of RSS pracharaks and not Muslims, the local Malegaon media has been thronging the houses of the accused for sound bytes.
Huda’s wife Samira Bano, 24, refused to say much when a local television journalist turned up. “I would only tell Allah about my misery. I don’t have any faith in the media or in the courts,” she said.
Huda and Samira Bano were married in May 2006. In the same month, Huda was booked under chapter proceedings — a law under which people suspected of breach of peace are booked and then released on a bond. After the 11 July Mumbai serial train blasts, Huda was again picked up and released after a few days of interrogation. This shows that Huda was under constant watch of the police. On 8 November 2006, Huda was again arrested by the police, just five months after his marriage.
He was first arrested not on the charges of Malegaon blasts but in a case registered under the provisions of Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) in which the Malegaon Police alleged that Huda was a member of the banned Muslim radical outfit Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) and that communally provocative literature had been seized from his house.
The records of court proceedings available with TEHELKA show that on 10 November, the Malegaon Police approached a local magistrate seeking permission to subject Huda to narco-analysis and brain mapping tests. The magistrate finally did not allow it, but even as the hearing was pending, the Malegaon Police took Huda to the State Forensic Laboratory, Bengaluru, and carried out the tests anyway. Dr S Malini’s report dated 12 October 2006 says that Huda knew about the blasts.
The same doctor had conducted these tests on over half-a-dozen Muslim men from Hyderabad including Abdul Kaleem (whose good behaviour inspired Swami Asimananda to confess) and had shown them involved in the Mecca Masjid case. CBI sleuths found those reports unreliable and fabricated.
AFTER TEHELKA published Swami Asimananda’s confession, the MCOCA court ordered the CBI to reinvestigate the 2006 Malegaon case. This is poised to split open not only the extent of the Hindutva terror network but also the insidious underbelly of the Maharashtra Police, which has earned notoriety over the past few years for torturing and wrongly implicating a slew of Muslim youth on trumped up terror charges.
The renewed probe will involve not only prosecuting the Hindutva extremists who carried out the blasts but also identifying and prosecuting the ATS cops guilty of alluring witnesses and faking evidence.
This will be the first step of reparation owed to the nine Muslims of Malegaon and their devastated families.