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Is political pressure hampering probes?

india Updated: Aug 07, 2008 16:33 IST
Ashok Das and Neelesh Misra
Highlight Story

A mobile SIM card bought on the border of West Bengal and Jharkhand holds the key to an intriguing question: were wrong people arrested and blamed for bombings in Hyderabad?

Four months apart, Hyderabad was bombed thrice last year with 52 people killed and more than 100 injured — at the 17th century mosque Mecca Masjid, on May 18 and an amusement park and a popular restaurant on August 25. In all, 21 unexploded bombs were found on the two days.

The Mecca Masjid case was referred to the Central Bureau of Investigation, whose just-retired director Vijay Shankar called it one of the toughest cases of his tenure — it was brought to the agency very late, a common problem in the CBI’s anti-terror probes. Now, investigators have found that the evidence in the case does not connect to the 12 accused, who were arrested because politicians were pushing the police to show quick results.

“A SIM card found at the site is from the same series as the one used in the Ajmer Sharif blasts (on Oct. 11, 2007) … and we are unable to find any links to the people named as accused by the local police,” a CBI official said, declining to be named. The group that allegedly bought the SIM cards used the forged ID of Babulal Yadav, a yoga teacher.

In a nameless building in New Delhi where India’s terrorism cases are investigated, wrongful arrests are not news to an official who dealt with the case. “The police are forced to arrest the wrong people to show results, because politicians have asked them to. It happens routinely.” he said.

In Hyderabad, one officer who showed results – Ajit Kumar Mohanty, former police commissioner of Hyderabad, was pushed out of his previous job seemingly because he did it too well. In a case widely believed to be India’s only successful terror investigation in years, Mohanty helped probe the 2005 suicide bombing at an office of the Special Task Force, working off just one crucial clue — a torn slipper with a Bangladeshi price tag. Mohanty was removed from that position within 15 months.

There were other signals as well for policemen. An alleged militant, Naseeruddin who was sentenced for life was pardoned by the government and freed on Independence Day in 2005.

A Gujarat police team which came to arrest an accused was chased and beaten up by Muslim youth in front of the state police chief’s office. A powerful minister visited the terror suspect at home. And a group of burqa-clad women stormed and ransacked the Saidabad police station and roughed up policemen, demanding the release of a terror suspect.

Twenty four hours after the August bombings, Chief Minister YS Rajasekhar Reddy declared: “The state government does not have the wherewithal to gather intelligence about attacks planned by international networks of terrorists and therefore such incidents cannot be prevented.”

Facing flak for seemingly going soft on terror, the state government announced the creation of Octopus (Organisation for Control of Terrorist Operations), the first dedicated anti-terror outfit in the country. The organisation was given sweeping powers.

Mohanty was brought to head the outfit. But it soon became that Octopus was powerless. Its strength was brought down from 17,000 to 1600; its independence was scuttled and it was not provided with required funds. Finally Mohanty was shunted out again.

Meanwhile, public anger is rising.

“This is the same police that solved the suicide bomber attack on the task force office. What has gone wrong with it?” asked Nayeemuddin, brother of Zaheeruddin who was killed when he had gone to offer prayers at Mecca Masjid.

And Mohanty, an icon in the state and famous as its best anti-terrorism officer, has now been posted to oversee highway safety.