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Maharashtra ATS, CBI X-rayed Will NIA Retain Confidence of People with Its Unbiased Terror Probe?

Cover Story

MOHAMMAD NAUSHAD KHAN analyses the revelations of NIA confirming inconsistencies and discrepancies in the investigation conducted by CBI as well as ATS in the Malegaon blast case, and pins hope in the ongoing unbiased probe of NIA.

By and large, people now doubt the intention and motives of the investigating agencies while carrying out probe into terror cases. Discrepancy in the process of probe has become order of the day and perfect co-ordination between these agencies is displayed only when they are out to prove innocent Muslims as terrorists or involved in terror activities. The way ATS and CBI probed Malegaon blast case is an eye-opener, not only to NIA but to the government and people of India as well.

NIA chargesheet in the Malegaon blast case is likely to open a Pandora box and has proved beyond doubt how biased and anti-Muslim approach the ATS and some other agencies have developed over the years or how seriously an investigation is conducted. The onus now lies on the NIA to retain people’s confidence by rising above caste, sex, creed, religion, money and muscle power as well as bureaucratic and political influence. If not, then it will simply fall in the category of other investigating agencies and thereby can hardly be able to retain the distinct identity it has earned in recent years with judicious approach, which is essential to become more acceptable and trustworthy. Various Muslim organisations under the banner of All India Muslim Majlis-e-Mushawarat, at a press conference on 2 April, had asked the government to use only the NIA to investigate terror cases or any other threat to national security.

The National Investigating Agency in its chargesheet filed on 22 May, has claimed that the Maharashtra Anti-Terrorist Squad and Central Bureau of Investigation recorded the statements of the witnesses under duress, created false witnesses and fabricated evidences. NIA during its investigation has found many inconsistencies and discrepancies in the investigation conducted by ATS in the Malegaon blast case. Similarly, NIA has claimed that Lokesh Sharma on 8 September, 2006 made a call from a PCO at Paharganj in New Delhi at 1.45 pm to some media houses claiming responsibility for the Malegaon blast even before blast took place in Malegaon at various places that killed 31 people. Lokesh at that point of time had claimed that a right wing group called Dharmasena carried out the blast. Surprisingly, it was not mentioned in the chargesheet filed by the ATS and CBI in the case.                   

The chargesheet filed by ATS had claimed that during the process of investigation it had collected soil sample from Shabir Batterywala’s godown where the bomb was believed to have been prepared to match it from where the blast took place. As per ATS, the soil was collected in front of five witnesses but the NIA in its investigation has found that these witnesses were bogus and created by ATS. NIA chargesheet further claims that the prime witness of ATS considered to have witnessed the making of the bomb has retracted his statements and has told NIA that it was done under pressure. According to charge-sheet, the evidence collected by NIA during the course of investigation is not in consonance with previous probe conducted by ATS and CBI.

Another accused, Zahid Majid Ansari who was claimed by ATS as one of the planters had defended himself by saying that when the blast took place in Malegaon, he was present in his hometown Yavatmal. Later on, when NIA questioned at least 12 witnesses, it came to know that Ansari was in his home town when the blast took place in Malegaon. NIA chargesheet has also mentioned that Shabir Masiullah who was charge-sheeted by the ATS as a key conspirator was already in custody with the Ghatkopar crime branch when the blast took place at Malegaon.

Last year, NIA, while re-investigating the 2006 Malegaon blasts case, had found that one of the suspects, Abrar Ahmed, was offered property by the Maharashtra ATS to take names in the Malegaon blast. Abrar Ahmed was made approver by the ATS but later he retracted his statement and told NIA that he was forced to identify photographs of a few persons shown to him. Mohammad Ali, another suspect named by the ATS in the Malegaon blast case, was present at the ATS office in Mumbai on the day when Malegaon blast had taken place. At that time, he was under probe by the ATS in connection with the Mumbai train serial blasts that took place in July 2006.

The Anti-Terrorism Squad had charge-sheeted nine Muslims for the blasts at two mosques that left 31 dead and more than 100 injured. All nine accused in the Malegaon blast case are out on bail granted by Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act (MCOCA) Court because National Investigation Agency (NIA), investing the case decided at that point of time not to oppose their bail plea. Salman Farsi, Shabir Ahmed, Noorulhuda Doha, Rais Ahmed, Mohammed Zahid and Farooque Ansari were released from Arthur Road Jail by a trial court and Abrar Ahmed was set free from Byculla prison. The other two, Asif Khan and Mohammad Ali were also granted bail but could not be released because they were also made accused in the 2006 Mumbai train bombings.

After ATS, the case was transferred to the CBI in 2011 and later to the NIA, which started re-investigating the case based on Aseemanand’s confession. Now, NIA chargesheet has named Dhan Singh, Lokesh Sharma, Rajendra Choudhry and Manohar. All these Hindutva extremists are charged under UAPA, Explosive Substance Act and under various sections of Indian Penal code. Notably, NIA in its chargesheet has not mentioned names like Swami Aseemanand, Pragya Thakur, and Colonel Purohit.

Sukanya Shantha in her article “Police must account for Malegaon probe,” in The Indian Express 28 May, has rightly said, “The chargesheet filed by the ATS in 2006 and later validated by the CBI in 2007 alleged to have recovered RDX, arms and ammunition, jihadi literature, incriminating cell phone records, and records of journey to foreign countries for terror training by these young men. This line of investigation now stands exposed by the NIA probe as well as confession made by Swami Aseemanand, prime accused in the 2007 Samjhauta blast in 2007. If the Muslim youth originally charged are now acquitted, the point of contention remains whether the state government will take the erring officers to task. 

In order to win the war on terror, officers who are judicious in their approach and intellect must be encouraged and promoted. India certainly needs brave, honest, true-to-pie and committed officers like Hemant Karkare who was capable of giving a new dimension to the terror probe and remained committed till his last breath even at the cost of his life. We do hope that NIA will continue to follow the right path and will take up the cudgel to complete what was initiated by Karkare in an honest, unbiased manner. Let us ensure that the sacrifice of Karkare does not go in vain.



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