Long plagued with charges of coerced confessions and manufactured evidence, the counter-terror probes are getting a makeover as the National Investigation Agency (NIA) is gradually creating a new template of investigation by relying on credible forensic tools and judicial confessions.
“We want to set an example for all anti-terror squads of the country by conducting credible and impartial probes in terror cases,” said Sharad Kumar, director general of the NIA, which was established after the 26/11 Mumbai terror attack as the country’s federal anti-terror agency.
Sources in the NIA say they did the unpleasant job of pointing out that the Delhi police’s anti-terror squad, the Special Cell, allegedly tried to manufacture evidence to establish that former Kashmiri militant Liyaqat Shah was on a terror mission.
The NIA has recommended departmental action against nine officials of the Special Cell for their alleged acts of omissions and commissions in the Liyaqat case.
“We were not out to gun for the Special Cell. Some mistakenly tried to portray it an issue between the Special Cell and the NIA as we sometimes compete with each over terror leads. But the question here involved the larger issue credibility of terror probes in the country,” said another senior NIA official.
The official added that even in Liyaqat case, the NIA relied on the Touch DNA test to prove that a Special Cell informer, Sabir Khan Pathan, allegedly planted weapons and ammunition in a guest house which were later ‘shown’ as recovered on the disclosure statement of Liyaqat.
The DNA traces picked from the guest house room matched with the DNA of family member of Pathan, who is absconding at the moment.
The Touch DNA method was also used to conclusively establish that Haidar Ali, a member of outlawed outfit Students Islamic Movement of India (Simi), had planted improvised explosive devices at Bodh Gaya in Bihar in July 2013.
“The CCTV footage showed that a person disguised as monk had planted bombs in the shrine. We found that the ‘monk’ had left his clothes outside the shrine. The DNA samples picked up from the cloth were matched with Haidar’s sample when he was arrested almost a year later by the NIA,” added the official.
Haidar and his associate Numan Ansari were allegedly found to be involved in planting bombs during Narendra Modi’s rally in Patna in October 27, 2013 as well. “Again forensic tools helped us to establish Numan was allegedly linked with the Patna blasts,” said an NIA investigator.
On the night of October 27, 2013, Numan Ansari reached at his sister’s house in Ranchi carrying a black bag and told his brother-in-law that he was coming back from Kolkata. The next morning the newspapers linked the Patna serial blasts to Numan’s village Sithiyo. The family members confronted Numan but he could not answer their questions properly. Later, he had left the place leaving the black bag there.
The NIA had seized the bag from his sister’s house and sent it for forensic examination. The forensic report confirmed presence of traces of explosives in the bag and tied Numan with the case. In February, 2013, twin blasts were carried out by the terror outfit Indian Mujahideen (IM) in Hyderabad’s Dilsukhnagar. “There was confusion of about the identity of two bomb planters who were caught in the CCTV footage. Initially it was suspected that Yasin Bhatkal may have planted the bombs but after cleaning the video and enhancing its quality, we tried to obtain height of the suspect.
“The height suggested that the alleged planters were Tehseen Akhtar alias Monu and Waqas. Yasin was in Nepal at the time of blasts. Once Yasin was arrested in six months later, he also confirmed the same,” said the NIA investigator.
NIA chief Sharad Kumar said in order to avoid charges of coerced confessions, the agency always goes for judicial confessions of accused recorded before a magistrate. “We managed to convince all almost all top IM operatives like Yasin Bhatkal, Asadullah Akhtar alias Haddi and Waqas to give a statement before magistrate under Section 164 of the CrPC which makes them admissible as evidence during the trial,” said Kumar.
Only a credible probe can result in conviction from the court, he said.­­­­