Their collective job is to fight terrorism, pre-empt attacks and track down terrorists who have destroyed the lives of thousands of people, but India’s counter-terrorism agencies are so busy fighting among themselves that the last thing on their minds is collaboration. This has botched up numerous investigations, the latest being the probe into the July 13, 2011, serial blasts in Mumbai, which claimed 27 lives and left 130 injured.
The 13/7 blasts highlights how badly fragmented the state and the central counter-terrorism agencies are, say internal security experts, and the recent fracas between the counter-terrorism agencies in Delhi and Mumbai is a point in case.
The drama began after the Delhi Special Cell arrested several Indian Mujahideen (IM) operatives, including Gayur Jamali, who named Naquee Ahmed as the man who helped find a safe house in Mumbai for the three 13/7 bombers, including Yasin Bhatkal.
The Delhi investigators picked up Naquee and brought him to Mumbai so he could identify the IM operative who was expected to come to collect the deposit paid to the landlord at Habib building in Byculla, where they had stayed.
The Delhi Special Cell, however, did not share these details with the Maharashtra Anti-Terrorist Squad (ATS), the nodal agency for the 13/7 blasts investigation. The Maharashtra ATS got a whiff of Naquee’s involvement and arrested him after he was brought to Mumbai by the Delhi investigators. The ATS also arrested another IM operative and announced that it had cracked the 13/7 case, but the Delhi police claimed that the arrests had actually botched up their efforts to catch bigger IM fry.
Questioning the Delhi investigators’ claim that Naquee was an informer for the Intelligence Bureau (IB), a senior officer, on condition of anonymity, said: “If Naquee was an IB informer, as the Delhi Special Cell claimed through newspapers, why did it have to reach him by catching his brothers.” The Delhi Special Cell officers had forced Naquee to appear at their office in Lodhi Colony by catching hold of his brothers, Razi and Taquee Ahmed in December.
The spat finally forced the home ministry to admit that there was lack of coordination between the two teams.
The fight between the Maharashtra ATS and the Delhi Special Cell does not stop at this. Police sources said the divide between the agencies is worse than what is being let out. “The IB does not share operational information with the Maharashtra ATS and vice-versa,” said a police source.
According to a top Maharashtra police official, who wished to remain anonymous, the IB has shared no inputs to help solve any of the previous terror cases. “Of the 13 cases that have been solved, the ATS resolved 12 alone, and one was solved accidentally,” the official said.
The IB, however, shares the information with the Delhi Special Cell, which itself, according to Delhi police sources, is internally divided.
This has prompted the Maharashtra ATS to work closely with the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) as it is answerable only to the Prime Minister. The IB reports to the home ministry.
There would not have been such coordination issues had the government been serious about setting up the Multi Agency Centre (MAC), the plan for which was mooted soon after the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks. “But the MAC [though it exists] remains largely on paper,” said, Ajay Sahni, executive director of the Institute for Conflict Management.
All central and state agencies were to share their intelligence with the MAC, which would ensure that the information flowed seamlessly to district headquarters, state capitals and the national Capital, and vice versa, said sources. “The need is for a centralised database of information and records accessible to all police agencies, state or central. Till that becomes the practice, there will be turf wars,” said Sahni.
If the MAC had been functional, 13/7 blasts key accused Yasin Bhatkal would never have walked out of jail after being arrested with counterfeit currency without any of the counter-terrorism units knowing about it.
The home ministry has now proposed a National Counter Terrorism Centre to address such problems.
Today, there is a huge flow of information, but little analysis is being done to convert it into information that can be of operational use, said Sahni, pointing out to the other major flaw in fighting terrorism.
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