ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846
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Flip-flops in Police Investigation

Mumbai 7/11 Blasts Case

Sharib Ali (sharibali@quillfoundation.com) coordinates research at Quill Foundation. 

An analysis of some investigative loopholes in the 7/11 Mumbai train blasts case adds weight to the growing voices that suggest that the accused may have been framed.

On 11 September 2015, the morning of the 7/11 Mumbai train bomb blasts case judgment, the mood outside the Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act (MCOCA) court was sombre and heavy with uncertainty. It was difficult to guess what the judgment would be. The defence was unsure as well. They had challenged every single piece of evidence that even came close to being substantial over the last eight years of the trial.

Given the many flip-flops of the agencies over the investigation even the press outside the court was not willing to make any predictions (the press was barred from attending the hearing). When the judgment came, it was astounding—12 of the 13 accused were convicted for conspiracy and committing offences against the country in an organised manner.

Now that the courts appreciation of the case is awaited, it is important that some of the details of the investigation as made public over the years are put on record.

The Initial Investigation

The very next day after the blasts—12 July 2006, the police announced that the Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) with active help from the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) in Pakistan were responsible.  This was even as the Mumbai police and intelligence officers admitted that they were waiting for clues to emerge.

On 14 July—three days after the blast, the police released the photographs of three prime suspects—Fayaz Kagzi, Zabiuddin Ansari and Rahil. According to the police, Rahil was reportedly on the run since the Aurangabad arms haul case in May 2006. The same day, the police also suggested that the arrested people may have been trained in Nepal. They also arrested two Pakistanis—Ghulam Chimma and Aftab Siddiqui, in connection with the blasts.

The final charge sheet does not have the names of the two initial suspects—Fayaz Kagzi and Zabiuddin Ansari. There is no information in the public domain on the two Pakistanis who were purportedly related to the case.

The flip-flip of the police on whether Research Department Explosive (RDX) was used in the blast is also telling. On 14 July, the police said that no RDX was used in the blast, declaring the results of the forensic tests conducted on the samples collected from the blast site. Three days later, the police officially confirmed the use of RDX in the blasts, along with ammonium nitrate.

The First Lead

A week later the police arrested three people—Kamal Ansari, Khalid Aziz Ronak Sheikh from Basupatti village in Madhubani district of Bihar and, Mumtaz Ahmed, Kamal Ansari’s brother-in-law, from Navi Mumbai.

The arrest of the three—two from Bihar, and one from Navi Mumbai—constitute the investigative lead in the case, according to the police. The breakthrough came when the telephone call analysis revealed that someone from Navi Mumbai was making four to five calls a day to a place near the Bihar-Nepal border before and after the blast.

Contradiction

The Call Data Records are the investigative nucleus of the case. According to the ATS, the call records of the accused established the link between them and the LeT in Pakistan. While filing for police custody – five of which were filed between 17 August and 25 September 25, 2006—the same call data records were cited.[i]

However K P Raghuvanshi claimed right after the judgement came out “We never made claims on the basis of the call data records. Accused persons never carry mobile phones with them while committing a crime.”

Raghuvanshi’s statement is wrong; in fact it is misleading. The remand application for Wahid ud Din Sheikh (A-8) (the one who was acquitted) stated that his mobile phone was used for “contacting members of LeT outside India” on behalf of Mohammad Sajid Ansari (accused 7). The extension of the remand of accused 1-9 was sought on the ground that Kamal Ansari had received arms training in Pakistan and “used the mobile phone and e-mail addresses for communicating with those persons (in Pakistan) and passing on messages. The call records of his mobile phone are being analysed.”[ii]

However, when the chargesheet was filed, the call data records were neither included nor mentioned or cited as evidence, and were dropped from the case altogether. This discrepancy—call records being cited to obtain police custody and then being dropped entirely evokes suspicion. Especially when after the police remand, 11 accused apparently confessed to their involvement in the blasts. All confessions were later retracted saying the signatures were obtained under torture.

It has to be kept mind that the case is under MCOCA which makes confession admissible in court of law and the fact that confession by and large forms the entirety of evidence against the accused.

The Pressure Cooker Theory

The second lead, according to police commissioner A N Roy came from the “forensic experts of the National Security Guards (NSG) who recovered three pressure cooker handles from three of the blast sites. Soon chemical analysis of the dustings from the blasted train compartments and a study of the damage done to the compartments by the National Bomb Data Centre revealed that each bomb contained 2.5kg of RDX placed in pressure cooker.”

Roy pointed out the pressure cooker was of “Kanchan” make and that “the Mumbai Police matched it with information from interrogated suspects and quickly zeroed in on the shops from where the cookers were bought. The shopkeepers remembered the buyers as they were a group of Kashmiri looking men who discarded the packing at the shop itself and took the cookers in polythene bags.”

Exactly like the call data records, the pressure cooker connection is never mentioned in the chargesheet. Instead, it says that the “explosive devices were assembled and kept in black rexine bags.”

ATS and Crime Branch Tussle

There is a reason why the pressure cooker theory refuses to go away from public memory. And every time the pressure cooker is mentioned, the ATS’s story comes under threat—even though it was they who first came up with it.

Two years after the blasts, while the trial was underway, an investigative development cast the most serious doubts on the case and added weight to the growing voices that the accused have been falsely framed in the case.

The Mumbai Crime Branch arrested 20 men while investigating the cars stolen from Navi Mumbai reportedly used in the 2008 blasts in Ahmedabad and Surat. They claimed the arrested men were members of the Indian Mujahideen (IM). The arrested people included Sadiq Sheikh, the alleged founder member of the outfit. According to the crime branch, the IM module was responsible for many blasts in Mumbai post 2005, including the 7/11 train blasts. 

A week after the arrests, Sadiq Sheikh’s confession was aired on national television in which he elaborated upon the way the way the train blasts were engineered by him and his accomplices on the instructions of his mentors, Riyaz Bhatkal and Amir Raza.

All five of us arranged local first class train passes beforehand. We also had the local train time table with us so that we could choose a train as per our convenience. We purchased bags and pressure cookers in Bombay. On the day of the blast—July 11, 2006—all five of us assembled the bombs and filled seven pressure cookers with explosives. We kept the bombs ready. We had planned the bombs to go off at 6.30 pm. So we activated the timer at 2 pm. We planned to move one by one with the bags containing the bombs.

The confession of Sadiq Sheikh and the claims by the Mumbai Crime Branch contradicted the entire case of 7/11 blasts made by the ATS for which 13 accused were in jail for the last two years. As the case shows, the chargesheet filed by the ATS found 13 members of SIMI behind the blast with active help from Pakistan. Sadiq Sheikh’s confession put the blame on the Indian Mujahideen, which is allegedly a home grown terror outfit as the name suggests.

Other Loopholes

There were several other contradictions. None of the 20 people arrested by the Crime Branch were part of the investigation by the ATS. Sadiq Sheikh also claimed that pressure cookers were used and the bombs were assembled in flat in Sewri in Mumbai. The chargesheet, however, said that rexine bags were used and that the bombs were assembled at a one-room house of Asif Khan (A-13) in Govandi in Mumbai.

In the face of such obvious contradictions between the claims of two different investigative agencies in Maharashtra—both of whom obtained confessions of the accused to support their version, the ATS rubbished the claims of the Crime Branch. DGP A N Roy said that Sadiq Sheikh’s claims were part of an Al-Qaeda ploy to mislead investigations.  However, soon after, the ATS sought for police custody of Sadiq Sheikh in the 7/11 blast case. And a few months later discharged him from the case entirely.

As I write, the arguments on sentencing are underway. After taking 13 months to write the judgment, the MCOCA court disallowed the defence application seeking two weeks to prepare for arguments on sentencing.

Notes

[i] Criminal Appeal no.973 of 2012 in MCOCA Special Case no 21 of 2006

[ii] Bombay High Court Judgement: Criminal Appeals 973 and 992/ 2012 in the MCOC Special Case 21 of 2006. Dated 10 December 2012.

 

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