NIA officer’s murder: The rise and fall of terror busters in India

  • Abhishek Sharan, New Delhi
  • Updated: Apr 07, 2016 10:44 IST
Youth Congress workers pay tribute to NIA officerTanzil Ahmed during a condolence meeting at the PCC office in Bhopal on Wednesday. (Mujeeb Faruqui/ HT Photo)

Senior National Investigation Agency (NIA) officer Mohammed Tanzeel Ahmed died on Sunday after two unidentified gunmen sprayed over 20 bullets at him in Uttar Pradesh’s Bijnor district in first such attack on a member of India’s only federal anti-terror body.

Around 1am on Sunday, 49-year-old Ahmed was returning home with his family from a wedding when two motorcycle-borne men drove past his Wagon R but came back within seconds.

The firearm of one of the men who fired at Ahmed jammed but he soon resumed, pumping over 20 bullets into his body and injuring his wife. For Ahmed, an inspector the NIA, the end came soon but not before he asked his teenaged son and daughter to crouch between the rear and front seats, saving them.

Following the deadly attack, tributes began pouring in - from shocked relatives and colleagues - for the NIA officer who spoke Urdu and Persian with as much ease as he would crack codes and develop intelligence in critical counter-terror operations, including those that led to the nabbing of the Indian Mujahideen (IM)’s then India chief bomb expert Yaseen Bhatkal in August 2013.

On leave after his stint as a liaison officer for the five-member Pakistan Joint Investigation Team (JIT) probing the January Pathankot attack by a six-member Jaish-e-Mohammed squad, it was suspected he was targeted by terror elements. The role of IM and Students’ Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) was being examined.

Three days later, on Wednesday however, a senior UP police officer supervising the murder probe said that the slain counter-terror ace was suspected to have been targeted by hired criminals at the behest of acquaintances for reasons related to “personal”, “property-related” reasons.

Police sources spoke of the probe focusing on his “frequent” trips to his hometown for personal reasons, which could unravel the murder of the man who was an assistant commandant with the Border Security Force (BSF) on deputation to the NIA for the past six years.

Police have detained three people in connection with the murder after raiding the hideouts of the suspects in Bijnor, Aligarh, Sambhal and Bulandshahar districts, a senior officer said.

The suspects are being interrogated and officials have refused to identify the suspects. The probe team, however, ruled out a terror angle in the case.

Ahmed’s murder is being probed by several agencies, including the state anti-terrorist squad, special task force, district police and central investigation bodies. Sources said the terror angle was eliminated only after a thorough probe.

According to sources, the probe revealed that Ahmed had a misunderstanding with local residents when he bought some property in Bijnor district.

Ahmed is not the only police officer who was feted by the public and hogged the front pages and prime time news bulletins before their slide began, abruptly, allegedly due to their lure of the lucre or proximity with land or property mafia.

Here’s a lowdown on such officers:

Rajbir Singh: ‘Encounter specialist’, Delhi police

ACP Singh was killed on March 24, 2008, at property dealer Vijay Bharadwaj’s Gurgaon office, where he had gone to meet him as they were old acquaintances.

According to the CBI that probed the murder case, it was suspected that there was a dispute over Rs 50-60 lakh between the two, which led to the murder. Singh had allegedly provided money in lakhs to the accused, Bharadwaj, for investing the same in properties with a motive to earn a profit.

The CBI submitted before the court that Singh, who had Z-plus security, told his escort to wait outside the office and entered the dealer’s office. Both sat down for drinks and after an altercation, Bharadwaj allegedly shot him twice at point-blank range from behind. Singh died on the spot. Bharadwaj was later convicted.

Singh, who was known for his formidable network of informants in the world inhabited by gangsters and terrorists and the number of ‘kills’ in ‘police encounters’, allegedly represented many of his ilk who live by their automatics and mobile phones. While they are expected to draw a line between countering criminals and adopting pressure tactics to amass personal fortunes, the line does get blurred now and then.

Singh had neutralised several terror cells in Delhi in coordination with central intelligence agencies and arrested several operatives including Mohammed Afzal Guru, who was hanged in 2013 after his conviction in the 2001 Parliament attack case.

Singh was posted with the Delhi Police’s Special Cell and the crime branch and had also detected the Red Fort terror attack case of 2000.

Daya Nayak: ‘Encounter specialist’, Mumbai Police

A 1995-batch sub-inspector, ‘encounter specialist’, Nayak had ‘neutralised’ 83 alleged gangsters during his stint with the Mumbai crime branch and its crack Crime Intelligence Unit (CIU), which virtually decimated the city’s underworld during 1995 to 2005.

His world came crashing down with his arrest in early 2006 by the state anti-corruption bureau on charges of amassing properties, which he denied as baseless and motivated. He was later suspended.

Allegations against Nayak’s disproportionate assets began surfacing since 2002 after he opened a school in his home state of Karnataka. A departmental inquiry, however, cleared Nayak of all allegations.

In October 2009, Maharashtra police denied permission to prosecute Nayak, citing insufficient grounds. Nayak was cleared of all charges in 2010 by the Supreme Court and his suspension was revoked in 2012.

Nayak belonged to a modest background and is said to have studied under street-lights to join the force.

The lives of Nayak and his purported ‘mentor’ - former inspector and ‘encounter specialist’ Pradeep Sharma who had 103-plus ‘hits’ to his credit including gangsters and three LeT terrorists - inspired several Bollywood movies like ‘Ab Tak Chappan’.

In January 2010, Sharma, who had joined the police force in 1983, was nabbed along with 21 others for their alleged involvement in the fake encounter of ‘gangster’ Lakhan Bhaiyya but was subsequently acquitted by a Mumbai court in July 2013.

Ravindranath Angre: ‘Encounter specialist’, Maharashtra Police

A 1983-batch police officer, Angre had killed 52 alleged gangsters. Among his scalps was elusive and ‘resident’ underworld ‘don’ Suresh Machekar in August 2003 after tracking him for three years.

“It was my Independence Day gift to the nation,” Angre had told media then.

His slide from the top began five years later when Thane Police arrested him in February 2008 on allegations of threatening a local property developer, Ganesh Wagh.

The complainant, Wagh, had backed out of a deal to build a Rs 100 crore swimming pool-cum-club complex in Thane. Wagh filed a complaint of threatening, extortion and robbery against Angre, following which the officer was arrested and suspended.

Angre spent months in prison and was released in May 2009. He was later reinstated into the service and transferred to Maoist-infected Gadchiroli but he refused to accept his transfer.

Angre was dismissed from service in June 2014.

Shridhar Vagal: Former Mumbai Crime Branch chief

Maharashtra-cadre IPS officer Vagal was arrested by the Special Investigation Team (SIT) probing the multi crore-stamp paper scam in November 2003. Vagal, who was posted as commissioner (state intelligence department) at the time of his arrest, had also served as joint commissioner of police (crime), a prestigious posting, earlier.

Vagal, an officer of 1976 batch, was the first IPS officer to be arrested in the fake stamp paper scam and charged under the stringent Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act.

He was suspended in 2003 after his arrest. In 2010, however, the Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT) set aside his suspension.

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