Pune blast accused Sammad gets bail

Abdul Sammad Bhatkal, who was picked up from the Mangalore airport by the Mumbai Anti-Terrorist Squad for his alleged role in an arms case and also the Pune blasts case, was granted bail by the Mumbai sessions court on Tuesday.

Besides ordering conditions while granting bail, the court ordered him to furnish Rs 25,000 as surety.

The argument put forth by Sammad’s legal team was that the case was a non-starter since day one. He had been accused of supplying arms to three Chota Shakeel men who were arrested in Mumbai a couple of years ago. However, the three main accused were released on bail. It was in this case that a lookout notice was issued against him.

On his arrest, the police also charged him as a suspect in the Pune blasts case. It was stated that the face that was captured on the CCTV matched to his and hence he was being questioned in the case.

However, the ATS never managed to dish out enough proof against Sammad. His family members, on an earlier occasion, had told rediff.com that he was very much with them attending a wedding in Bhatkal when the incident occurred. They even gave out photographic evidence of the same. Further, it was contended that Sammad was only a bait to apprehend his brother Yaseen Bhatkal.

There had been uproar in Bhatkal following Sammad’s arrest. The family contended that he had been working in Dubai and had come down to Mangalore to renew his visa on May 24 when he was picked up.

Meanwhile, Sammad has been told not to leave the country without the court’s permission. Also, his passport will remain with the investigating officer.

Photograph: Abdul Sammad (the man in blue-shirt), with his family.


"Fail to understand how the police can go so horribly wrong’

The police investigations into the Ajmer and Mecca Masjid blast cases have floundered. The investigation went in one direction blaming the Harkat-ul-Jihadi for two years and now it is going in another direction where the Abhinav Bharat and the Sanathan Sanstha are being blamed. Several persons have often wondered why the police bungled this probe so badly that the courts had to release all those who were arrested initially and in some cases even ordered the state to pay compensation.

S R Darapuri, a retired Indian Police Service officer has been fighting for several innocents picked up and tortured by the police in several cases of terrorism, including the Ajmer case. “Being a part of the establishment for 25 years, I fail to understand how the police can go so horribly wrong. The problem is that a majority of the force has a communal bias towards the minorities,” the former top cop says.

In this interview with rediff.com, Darapauri explains how the police force is beset with bias and what needs to be done to tackle it.

What are your views on the shift in investigations into both the Ajmer and Mecca Masjid blasts case?

From day one, there was something fishy about the manner in which the investigations were being conducted. It looked like a complete frame up from the start. Many of us wondered why Muslims would blowing up their own shrines? Something did not add up from the beginning.

Are you saying that the same outfits carried out these blasts?

The Ajmer, Mecca Masjid, Malegaon and Goa blasts are all interlinked. I strongly suspect the role of Abhinav Bharat and the Sanathan Sanstha in these incidents.The uncanny resemblance in all these cases will tell you the story.

Do you believe that the police is on the right track now?

It looks fine at the moment. However, the biggest victory would be when innocents stop getting implicated in such cases. We must all thank (former Mumbai Anti-Terrorism Squad chief) Hemant Karkare who blew the lid off this phenomenon. The police were under the impression that it was the Muslims who were involved in all cases of terrorism. However Karkare exposed them. As a non-Muslim, I would like to say that while Muslim terror groups may carry out blasts in market places or other spots, they would never attack a mosque.

The police are largely to blame in such cases. They pick up the wrong persons and give a completely different spin to the case. Why does this happen?

There is a communal bias in the police department. I have seen that majority of the officers have a communal bias towards the minorities. This practice has been going on for a while now and no attempt has been made to stop this. Moreover there is no action against those police personnel who book innocent people in wrong cases. What has happened in Hyderabad? So many people were let off by the court. The police who booked the cases for reasons best known to them continue to remain unpunished.

What should be done to change this mindset of the police?

First the police should stop chanting the mantra ‘Every Muslim is not a terrorist, but every terrorist is a Muslim.’ This generalisation needs to stop. Even at the training level, police officers should be instilled with the correct mindset.

At the lower rung it gets worse and each one is affected by personal prejiduces which ultimately affects investigations.

Is there any kind of political pressure to act in a particular manner?

Yes, political pressure does exist. In many cases police officers have acted on political pressure and this kind of malice among them has affected all ranks of the force. There is a need to change the composition of the police force and ensure that they work more for the society. Today the police appear to be working towards nurturing their own personal prejudices.

What about the influence of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh in the force?

The RSS has been infiltrating the force and also the administration for a long time. You speak of changing attitudes of the police with the change in government. However that makes no difference due to this infiltration. They pretty much control a large part of the system.

Ajmer blast goof-ups

Syed Salim was at the Ajmer Dargah on October 11, 2007, like a lot of others offer his prayers on Ramazan, when a bomb ripped through the shrine. However, little did he know that he would be tagged as the bomber.

A hasty and irresponsible investigation by the Rajasthan police has scarred Salim’s family.

Two years after wrongly implicating him as the suicide bomber in the Ajmer dargah blast, the Rajasthan police finally accepted that Salim was not a terrorist but one of the victims.

The Hyderabad-resident was not alive to see his humiliation and relief, however his family has lived through it all — the pain and humiliation apart from the agony of his death.

The Central Bureau of Investigation, which is probing the case, concluded that Salim was not the suicide bomber after it was confirmed that the blast had been carried out by Hindu groups.

Salim’s wife and two children refused to talk about the incident, however his close relatives told rediff.com that the police interrogated the family very often for two years to find links between Salim and the blasts. While his family lived in Hyderabad, Salim had been working in Ajmer for he wanted to be close to the dargah.

“The family found it difficult to come out in the public. It is difficult to step out when a member of their family was accused of being a suicide bomber,” a relative said on condition of anonymity.

On the fateful day, while removing the bodies from the spot, the police stumbled upon Salim’s body and found a Telugu newspaper on him, which led them to believe that he was from Hyderabad, said police sources.

The Rajasthan police even claimed that they had found IED in Salim’s pocket and that he belonged to the Hyderabad module that carried out the Mecca Masjid blasts too. They had stated Salim was part of the Bangladesh-based Harkat-ul-Jihadi, which conducted the blast to create communal tension.

Relatives and friends of Salim said he was a soft-spoken person and a pious Muslim, who could have never done such an act especially at a holy shrine that he visited so often.

“Salim went to Ajmer because he wanted to spend more time at the dargah as he had immense faith in the shrine. Why would such a man even think of carrying out a blast?” his friend Farooq asked.

He had always wanted to open a shop near the Ajmer dargah so that he could visit the shrine often, he added.

Madani under scanner for role in Blore Blasts

The Bengaluru police are probing the involvement of controversial People’s Democratic Party leader Abdul Nasser Madani in the serial blasts that rocked the city in July 2008.

The police are waiting to interrogate the PDP leader, who has been admitted to a hospital at Kannur in Kerala, to get more information.

Two people had been killed on July 25, 2008, when nine serial blasts had rocked the IT capital.

Sources in the Bengaluru police told rediff.com that they suspect a strong link between the PDP chief and terror suspect Nasir alias Haji Umar, who also hails from Kannur. Nasir is a member of the top cadre of the now defunct Islamic Seva Sangh, which was responsible for inspiring and recruiting youths for Jihadi moment.

The police have registered nine cases in connection to the blasts and ten terror suspects have been arrested.
The final chargesheet will be filed against 26 accused, of which ten are already in custody. While four accused died in an encounter with the Army in Kashmir, the remaining 12 are absconding. Out of the 26 terror suspects, four are foreign nationals and the city police have sought help from the Interpol to nab them.

Nasir, 35, the son of a rich businessman in Kannur, was one of the principal recruiters of Jihadi youths. He recruited five men from Kerala to cross over to Pakistan from Kashmir last year to attend terror training by Lashkar-e-Tayiba leaders.

Four of them were killed by the Army, while the fifth man, called Jabbar, was arrested by the Joint Investigation Team of the Kerala police from Hyderabad recently.

During interrogations, Jabbar told the officials of the Anti-Terrorist Cell of the Karnataka police that LeT operatives had trained him for a week in Kashmir and later armed him with an AK-47 assault rifle to help him cross over to Pakistan.

Abdul Sattar alias Sainudeen, the main suspect in the Bengaluru blast case, was arrested by the city police a few months ago. He assisted the five men in Hyderabad and his ISS associate, Abdul Hameed alias Amir Ali, helped them in New Delhi on their journey to Pakistan through the Kashmir valley.

Abdul Hameed, a karate instructor and ISS strongman, fled Kerala in 2000 after the police charged him with plotting the murder of the then chief minister E K Nayanar. Hameed was arrested by the JIT team at the Kasargode railway station.

Men who played key role in 26/11

The National Investigation Agency team, which quizzed Lashkar-e-Tayiba operative David Headley in Chicago this week, tried to glean information about Abu al-Qama, who allegedly played a key role in planning the 26/11 terror attacks on Mumbai.

The NIA team asked Headley specific questions about Abu Qama’s role in attacks, Intelligence Bureau officials told rediff.com.

According to Indian investigators, Abu Qama, a militant commander in Kashmir, was recruited by the LeT to cash in on his network of international operatives.

During interrogation, Headley revealed that he had stayed in touch with Qama while planning the 26/11 attacks and updated him about the reconnaissance of terror targets in Mumbai.

Intelligence agencies initially suspected that that Abu Qama might be an alias for LeT leader Zarar Shah. Investigators are also probing the antecedents of a terror operative named Abdul Wajid, who reportedly guided the terrorists during the night of November 26, 2008, as they went about their killing spree in the heart of Mumbai.

Intelligence agencies admit that it is difficult to zero in on these terrorists as they use too many aliases. Their identities can be confirmed only after the Pakistan government provides voice samples of the terrorists who are in custody there.

“Headley’s statements are just not enough to ascertain who Qama, Shah and Wajid are. We believe that each one of them has played a very vital role in the attacks and bringing them to book will weaken the LeT. The Union home ministry has decided to seek the voice samples of these men to compare them with the samples we have (which were intercepted by the intelligence agencies during the attack),” said a source in the IB.

Though Headley has divulged information about the activities of Qama and the Inter Services Intelligence in planning the attacks, he did not have too much information about Wajid.

Headley stated that he received instruction from three ISI officials — Major Sameer Ali, Major Haroon and Major Iqbal. He told the interrogators that he stayed in touch with Abu Qama, who used the alias Mazhar Iqbal, when he conducted a survey of likely targets in Mumbai. After the attack, Qama had warned Headley that he didn’t want the ISI’s involvement to be revealed at any point.

Indian investigators are trying to find more information about Zarar Shah, who is being tried in Pakistan for the 26/11 attacks, along with other terror operatives including Wajid and one Muzzamil Bhat who supervised the terror attack on Mumbai.

Is Aseemanand the mastermind of ‘Hindu terror?’

The Central Bureau of Investigation, which is probing the Ajmer and Hyderabad Mecca Masjid blasts, say that their case will not be complete unless they lay their hands on Swami Aseemanand — who is believed to be the leader of Hindu right wing groups carrying out subversive activities in the country.

“While we continue to probe all angles relating to this case, the name that has been cropping up the most is that of Swami Aseemanand,” sources told rediff.com.

Although his connection cropped first in connection with the Malegaon blast case, investigators believe that he was in the know of the blasts at Mecca Masjid, Hyderabad and Ajmer. The security agencies have the godman telephonic conversations with Sadhvi Pragya Singh, a prime accused arrested for her alleged role in the Malegaon case, they said.

Prior to the blasts at Malegaon, the swami had made a call to the sadhvi and the Mumbai Anti Terrorism Squad has a recording of this conversation.

The investigators have also managed to get a lot of information on meetings between the two prior to the Malegaon blasts.

According to investigators, Aseemanand who originally hails from West Bengal left that place since he was upset with the Communist regime there. He then took shelter in Gujarat and over the years turned into a godman. During the various meetings with hardliners from the Hindu community, he discussed with them the ‘growing menace of Islamic terrorism.’

During one of these meetings he met Sadhvi Pragya Singh who shared similar views and they decided that the only way to curb this violence was through violence.

Investigators say he is the key. They believe that he is like a father-figure to the likes of Davendra and Chandrashkar, prime suspects in the Goa, Ajmer and Hyderabad blasts. The CBI has been questioning the duo about the whereabouts of Aseemanand and the due said they last heard that he was in Gujarat.

The investigators believe that he may have shifted base now since they were unable to track him down. However, they believe that he shares an extremely good rapport with the tribals in the Dangs district where he has been taking up re-conversion programmes.

The investigating agency also firmly believes that the godman had played an important role in funding these attacks. He had a lot of funds coming in for his ashram and a major part of it could have been diverted to carry out subversive activities.

Headley interrogation not a big success

After much delay and discussions, the interrogation of Lashkar-e-Tayiba operative David Headley by a team of the National Investigation Agency has come to an end.

Sources close to the members of the investigating team told rediff.com that the Pakistani-American terror operative proved to be a tough nut to crack.

Headley was well prepared to face the NIA team’s questions and throughout the interrogations, he stuck to responses he had given to the officials of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, said sources.

Headley had anticipated the kind of questions that the NIA team would ask, said sources, adding that the terror operative used his knowledge of American laws to his advantage.

The first time the NIA interrogators met Headley, he told them that the plea bargain did not permit him to answer the questions posed to him, as it might implicate him further. But the Indian agencies sought legal counsel over the issue and managed to convince Headley that this provision would not stand in the way of the interrogation.

Headley even demanded a questionnaire from the NIA team, which refused to give him one. But the LeT operative didn’t venture beyond the answers or the information he had already given the FBI.

According to Indian security agencies, the exercise was not too fruitful overall. Headley spoke about his activities in India, his handlers in Pakistan and the role of the Inter Services Intelligence in planning the Mumbai terror attacks. But he refused to reveal too much information about his local links in India.

Local modules the common link between Hbad, Pune basts

As the Central Bureau of Investigation continues to join the dots on the Ajmer, Pune Goa and Mecca Masjid blasts cases, the probe so far has revealed that a very strong local network of Hindu right-wing groups in Hyderabad and Pune may have carried out these attacks.

The Pune module of these groups has been functional for the past ten years and they have been carrying out small-time disruptive activities. They announced their arrival with the Nanded blast in April 2006.

The CBI has been questioning various persons in connection with these cases, but they have picked up two men (Devendra and Chandrashekar) who have been saying a lot in custody. They are allegedly members of the Sanathan Sanstha, but the organisation has distanced itself from them terming them as fringe elements.

Investigators are keen to find out local links in each case as without them none of these blasts would have been possible. Investigators have found that both the Ajmer and the Mecca Masjid blasts are identical. They believe that a strong local base in Hyderabad helped carry out both these blasts.

The materials used in both cases were procured from the same source. Moreover, the bombs have been assembled by the same module, which is based in Pune. Sources told rediff.com that each blast cost nearly Rs 1.5 lakh and all the money was collected from the local modules both in Pune and Hyderabad.

A small outfit in Hyderabad which the CBI does not want to name at this point started off three years back with 50 men. Today their strength has grown to almost 2,000 and they are extremely aggressive. They conduct camps and collect money during festivals and investigators feel that a large part of this money may have been diverted for these bomb blasts.

The role of this organisation has come in for thorough scrutiny and some members are being questioned. The investigators also don’t rule out support from local political leaders.

Sources say that these groups have intentionally divided themselves into smaller organisations but they have a very strong network. They have been carefully bifurcated to carry out specific jobs. Investigators say that these groups are headquartered in Pune and have their strongest networks in Rajasthan and Andhra Pradesh. While the Pune module has always been involved in the planning, it is the other two modules which have helped in the execution, investigators point out.

However, investigators have not been able to find out is the link between the module run by Malegaon blast accused Lieutenant Colonel Srikant Purohit and the modules which carried out the Ajmer, Mecca Masjid, Goa and Pune blasts. “We believe that these two modules worked on these cases separately. It could well be a ploy to stay separate so that when one module is busted the other keeps going,” a source told rediff.com.

‘Govt of Andhra Pradesh should openly say sorry’

Three years after the Mecca Masjid blast in Hyderabad, investigators stated that all evidence point to right-wing Hindu groups. However, this is no consolation for Imran Khan and 40 others who were arrested soon after the blast without proper evidence.

The 2007 blast had killed nine people and injured several others. However, the wounds of the 40-odd people incuding Khan, arrested after the blast, may never heal.

The blast changed Khan’s life — the Hyderabad police picked up the BTech student as the first suspect three days after the blast and released him after he was acquitted by local court after 17 months.

“Many innocent people were picked up along with me, but I was the first. I spent 17 months in jail before being acquitted.”

Life has not been easy for Khan even after the acquittal. “I was acquitted, but at what cost? I still carry this terrorist tag. My father, who was a central government employee, had to face an inquiry and, worse, he was demoted because of this.”

“I don’t care whether it was a Hindu group of any other group which carried out this attack. My only concern is that the government of Andhra Pradesh should announce openly that they are sorry for what happened to me and the other innocents in the case,” he said.

Khan feels life would continue to be difficult till the Andhra Pradesh government and Hyderabad police admitted their mistake, just as it had publicly declared him and others guilty three years ago.

“Even after I was acquitted, the Hyderabad police told me that I was still an accused for them.”

Khan said the police forced him to undergo a narco-analysis test and also made him confess falsely before the media.

“They forced me to confess that I had made the bombs. They also force me to admit I was a conspirator in the case. I knew all along that the story was baseless, but I had no voice.”

The Hyderabad resident said it was the Central Bureau of Investigation that saved him from the police’ shoddy investigation.

“I was really assured when they (the CBI) told me that the case against me was baseless. They assured me that I would never face a problem again.After this, the police stopped troubling me,” he recollected.

Khan is today pursuing his BTech again after it was cut short three years ago. However, restarting life after the trauma has not been easy.

“In my case, the state police acted like a licenced goons. They said what they wanted and never realised the pain and misery it caused to my family. I am still studying and want to take up a respectable job.

Revival of Naxals in South India

The Naxal movement is on the rebound in South India, Pramod aka Nandakumar, the Karnataka state secretary of the Communist Party of India-Maoist, has revealed to his interrogators.

However, he has also revealed that the Naxal movement was facing a manpower crisis, especially in Bihar, West Bengal and Jharkhand. To make up for the shortage, trained Naxals from the south are being sent to those states, he said.

The key Naxal leader was arrested in Hyderabad a week ago and was handed over to the Karnataka police, which had issued a lookout notice against him.

Pramod, who also goes by the alias Ranganna, is a resident of Kannur, Kerala. He had joined the People’s War Group in Karnataka 12 years ago and is married to a Punjabi woman.

His arrest can prove helpful to the police in obtaining information on Naxal activities in south India.

Sources from the Karnataka police said Pramod had been actively involved in reviving the Naxal movement in the south and had been frequently travelling between Kerala, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka, before his arrest.

A source in the Karnataka police, which is interrogating the Naxal leader, told rediff.com that the directive and shifting of men to Bihar, West Bengal and Jharkhand indicated that the Naxals were busy intensifying operations in various parts of the country. Also, Pramod has said, Naxal leaders have decided to create a powerful south corridor.

Naxal bases in Andhra Pradesh, which was earlier their stronghold, and Karnataka have collapsed after many men were captured or killed in encounters. Also, most of the high profile leaders moved away to the northern regions, Pramod told interrogators.

The Karnataka police said the Naxals were facing a leadership crisis in the south and were finding it difficult even to gather men due to strict police vigilance and dwindling local support.

The Karnataka police, which has successfully thwarted all Naxal operations in the state, said Pramod was giving out information very slowly.

“He is extremely stubborn and is good at dodging questions. However we need to keep him in custody for a longer time,” the police said.

He said that he is not aware of operations in Karnataka, but we have no reason to believe him, they added.

Pramod’s has said that the movement suffered a big blow with the death of their key leader Saketh Rajan, who was killed in a police encounter in 2005.

The Karnataka police said Pramod was not active in Karnataka, however he had signed several communications under the name Gangadhara.