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.
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.”