Pune: The State Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS), which has had its share of controversies in the past, seems to be under a cloud again following the recent claim by the Delhi Police Special Cell regarding involvement of Indian Mujahideen (IM) co-founder and SIMI ideologue Abdul Subhan Qureshi in the 2006 Mumbai train bombings.
This has caused a controversy and put a question mark on the arrests of 13 people by the State ATS for alleged involvement in the 7/11 train bombings of 2006. The special cell of Delhi police arrested Qureshi alias Taqueer from Gazipur and later released a press statement that said, "On 11 July 2006, SIMI/IM executed the serial blasts in local trains in Mumbai. Subsequently, Tauqeer’s name figured in this case and he fled from Mumbai to Karnataka."
The statement contradicted the charge sheet filed by the State ATS, which had booked 30 people for their role in the Mumbai train bombings and their alleged connection with Pakistan-based terrorist group Lashkar-e-Taiba. Seven blasts took place on the western line of the local train network in Mumbai on July 11, 2006, in which over 187 people died and 829 were injured.
According to the charge sheet filed by the State ATS, 13 people were arrested by them, excluding two others, who died while placing bombs in a train, while one died in a police encounter. The remaining 15 suspects were absconding, including 12 Pakistani and three Indian nationals based in England, Saudi Arabia and Nepal.
The ATS said the 30 people booked by them were the ones who conspired and executed the blasts. The 13 accused were arrested by the ATS within three months of the blast. Twelve of them were convicted in 2015, including six who were given death sentences. One of them was acquitted in the case.
Abdul Wahid, who was acquitted in the case, said, "Since 2006, we have been telling the ATS that they had arrested innocent people. We (13) were severely tortured. The ATS, in its charge sheet, wrote that the plan was allegedly hatched in Pakistan and was executed with the help of persons allegedly belonging to SIMI. We were alleged to be SIMI operatives. They just wanted to finish off the case and arrested us without any proof and framed us to be a part of the conspiracy. In order to gain publicity, they framed innocent people and now the arrest made by the ATS has come into question."
Wahid said the ATS botched up the investigation and couldn’t arrest the real perpetrators. He said, "They didn’t know anything about IM till then. In 2008, when Sadiq Israr Sheikh, an IM operative, was arrested by the crime branch of the Mumbai police, he admitted that the 7/11 train bombings were conducted by IM. However, the ATS discharged him in the train bombings case and said he made the claim in order to save the 13 of us." After the arrest of Yasin Bhatkal, another IM operative, in 2013 by the Delhi Police, he also said the 2006 train bombings in Mumbai were carried out by IM.
However, then chief of Maharashtra ATS KP Raghuvanshi doesn't accept the claims of the Delhi Police Special Cell. When contacted, Raghuvanshi, (under whose leadership the 13 people were arrested) said, "Abdul Subhan Qureshi is misguiding the Delhi police in their investigation. Earlier also, Yasin Bhatkal had claimed that the 7/11 blasts were carried out by IM. These people make false claims to weaken the case. We have arrested the real offenders. The Delhi police are making contradictory statements on the basis of information provided by Qureshi."
Naval Bajaj, Inspector General of Police, Konkan range, who was then DCP (ATS), said, "You cannot ask such questions to me. The court has given its order in the case. If I make any statement in this regard, it means I am questioning the court. I think the Delhi police are making contradictory statements."
Sakal Times contacted Sachin Kadam, Police Inspector in the Anti-Extortion Cell of Mumbai police and then PSI with the ATS. He said, "Twelve people have been convicted in the case. Had they been innocent, they wouldn’t have been convicted. I have not heard what Delhi police have said and I don’t know what they are claiming."
Manisha Sethi, author of 'Kafkaland: Prejudice, Law and Counter-terrorism in India', said , "The ATS investigation in this case, like the Malegaon blast investigation, was a mockery. It was based on custodial confessions extracted under torture and little else. Many of the accused - and now convicted - had been visiting the police when summoned by them after the blast, making no attempt to flee. The problem is not only which agency is truthful, but how prejudiced terror investigations usually are. Even when the Crime Branch came up with a separate theory, there was no attempt to hold anyone accountable or to ascertain the truth. It's as if certain lives are expendable."