The conviction of Indian Mujahideen operative Shahzad Ahmed in the September 18, 2008, Batla House case will strengthen India’s counter-terror apparatus and force politicians to consider hard facts before calling any police encounter fake for purely electoral interests.
At least four senior Congress leaders, including two cabinet ministers, and a former Samajwadi Party leader had alleged the encounter was a fake one. This was despite the fact that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and then home minister P Chidambaram were convinced that those killed or arrested at Batla House were terrorists.
While IM’s Pakistan-trained bomb-maker Ariz Khan aka Junaid escaped the police dragnet during the Batla House encounter and is believed to be in Saudi Arabia, the conviction brings the curtains down on an event that broke the backbone of the Atif Ameen module of the terrorist group.
Another operative Mohammed Saif, whose father then was a SP politician in Azamgarh, was not charged as he had locked himself in the bathroom during the encounter in which Delhi Police Inspector Mohan Chand Sharma was killed.
The Batla House encounter was a milestone in India’s counter-terrorism history as for the first time the police came across indigenously radicalised Islamic fundamentalists responsible for the deaths of over 550 people between 2005 and 2008. Backed by IM founders Riyaz and Iqbal Bhatkal, the Atif Ameen-headed northern India module was responsible for several serial blasts. These include the Dashashwamedh Ghat blast in 2005, the Mumbai local train blasts in 2006, the Hyderabad blasts in 2007 and the 2008 Delhi blasts.
The encounter and the international pressure on Pakistan post-26/11 ensured that no terrorist incident took place till IM’s Yasin Bhatkal targeted the German Bakery in Pune in February 2010. It led to the arrest of at least 37 IM operatives involved in the 2008 Ahmedabad, Jaipur, Delhi and Hyderabad blasts. They included Shahzad Ahmed alias Pappu, who was picked up from Azamgarh on February 1, 2010.
Though the verdict will sharpen the political contest between the Congress and the BJP in the run-up to the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the conviction will perhaps set to rest the minority community’s apprehensions about the September 18 shoot-out.
The encounter was used by both the Congress and the Samajawadi Party to garner electoral support in the 2012 UP Assembly elections.
The verdict will also push Delhi Police and the security agencies to go after the remnants of the IM’s Azamgarh module. Ariz Khan, Mirza Shahdab Baig, Mohammed Sajid, Mohammed Khalid, Dr Shahnawaz Alam, Asadullah Akhtar, Abu Rashid and Sharfuddin are still at large. Dr Shahnawaz, brother of Mohammed Saif, is based in Pakistan and is said to be the new leader of the Azamgarh module.
In the meantime, other IM modules have cropped up in north Bihar, Tamil Nadu, Jharkhand, Karnataka and even Assam due to radicalization by group’s leader Yasin Bhatkal in India and support of Karachi-based founders Riyaz and Iqbal Bhatkal as well as Amir Raza Khan. The positive verdict just might trigger off a new war against terror in India.