While pronouncing its verdict in the Aurangabad arms haul case on Thursday, the special MCOCA court observed that suspect Firoz Deshmukh, a librarian with preacher Dr Zakir Naik’s Islamic Research Foundation (IRF), had allegedly been in touch with an absconding suspect before his arrest, and that the absconder had telephoned Deshmukh from Bangladesh, asking for CDs of Naik’s sermons.
The court criticised the Maharashtra anti-terrorism squad (ATS) for not investigating this aspect of the case. It went to acquit Deshmukh, saying the evidence against him was insufficient to hold him guilty. Deshmukh was arrested on August 3, 2006 after he was allegedly found to be touch with the absconding accused, whose identity is unclear. After Deshmukh’s arrest, the ATS summoned Naik for questioning but did not record his statement.
Naik has been the subject of a police inquiry since it was reported that two of the terrorists who took hostages in Dhaka on July 2 had drawn inspiration from his sermons.
TIMELINE OF EVENTS
- May 9, 2006: Acting on a tip-off, ATS teams were deployed at Yeola, Manmad and Aurangabad. Around 4 pm, the team at Yeola noticed a white Tata Sumo speeding towards Aurangabad after jumping a police signal. The team chased the vehicle and intercepted it at Verul Aurangabad Road. Three people got down from the Sump and started running. One of them, Mohammed Amir Shakil Ahmed Shaikh, was caught. The police recovered a computer server cabinet, an AK-47 assault rifle, four magazines, 200 live cartridges, a magazine pouch and 3kg of RDX. The three had also briefly visited an MLA hostel in Mumbai
- May 10, 2006: After Shakil was interrogated, the police arrested Zuber Sayyed Anwar in Khuldabad and Muzaffar Mohammed Tanvir in Aurangabad
- May 12, 2006: The driver of the Sumo, Abdul Azeem Abdul Jameel Shaikh, was arrested in Aurangabad. Meanwhile, the Nashik police found a Tata Indica hatchback without a number plate in Malegaon (right, in pic). Shakil had told the police that the Indica, loaded with weapons, had been accompanying their Sumo
- May 14, 2006: Five people were arrested for allegedly disposing of the Indica. Meanwhile, the ATS and the Nashik police found two boxes under the culvert of a road behind Gorkshnath mountain, about 6km from Manmad. One of them contained an AK-47 rifle, 200 cartridges and two magazines, while the other, made of wooden planks, contained 50 live hand grenades
- May 13, 2006: Afzal Khan led the police to Malegaon, where the ATS found five similar boxes. They contained five computer server cabinets, five AK-47 rifles, 5,000 cartridges, 100 magazines each, and 13kg of RDX
- June 07, 2006: The ATS said they recovered two swords from Shaikh Viquar that had been given to him
While the ATS maintains that Deshmukh is a former employee of IRF, Naik refuted this during a recent press conference, which he addressed via video conference from Saudi Arabia. Naik claimed Deshmukh worked at an office next to IRF’s in Dongri and that he was just an acquaintance.
But KP Raghuvanshi, a former ATS chief who headed the squad in 2006, said, “We had summoned Naik to question him about Deshmukh, who was employed by IRF. Though we didn’t record Naik’s statement, we did question him. It is not true that Deshmukh wasn’t an IRF librarian.”
The police said Naik was also questioned in connection with the July 11, 2006 train blasts in Mumbai as one of the accused was also an employee of his. Naik, who is currently in Saudi Arabia, has said that he will not return to India this year.
Deshmukh said on Thursday, “Many allegations have been made against me. All of them have been proved wrong.” His advocate, Mubin Solkar, said, “Zakir Naik’s name never came up in the case. We demonstrated to the court that my clients were not present in the vehicle, either as occupants or driver. It is a fabricated story. My clients have been acquitted. One witness also said that he does not know Deshmukh and that he never gave him any CDs.”