“Paanch number machlee (fish No.5)” was the code name allegedly given to Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi by Lashkar-e-Taiba’s Pakistani commander Muzammil, records of intercepted telephone conversations he had with two of the men killed along with Ishrat Jahan have revealed.
They also talk in code of four other targets: the late Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray (fish No. 1), VHP leaders Pravin Togadia (No. 2) and Ashok Singhal (No. 3) and BJP leader LK Advani (No. 4).
The intercepts, accessed by Hindustan Times, reveal Muzammil — wanted in the 26/11 Mumbai attacks case — reportedly gave coded instructions to Jishan Johar alias Abdul Gani to eliminate Modi.
Johar was among the three men killed with Ishrat Jahan by the Gujarat Police in Ahmedabad in June 2004 in what is alleged to have been a fake encounter.
The police claim they were LeT operatives plotting Modi’s assassination.
The Intelligence Bureau (IB) had tapped into the conversations in April 2004 after receiving alerts, including from two of its informers who were LeT operatives trained in Pakistan. They are mentioned as ‘C1’ and ‘C2’ in the CBI’s charge sheet in the encounter case.
Muzammil allegedly asked C1 and C2 to assist Johar — a suspected LeT man from Pakistan — in the operation. The conversations are between the four and a fifth man, suspected to be Javed Shaikh alias Pranesh Pillai, who was also killed in the encounter.
"You must make him (Johar) understand what needs to be done about fish number five, about who you spoke to me. Talk to him in that context, make him understand everything," the voice alleged to be Muzammil, speaking Urdu in a thick Punjabi accent, instructs Shaikh. He then tells Johar, "You rest, we will talk later in detail. I have told them (C1 and C2) about the work, understand it well from them."
In the tapes, Muzammil addresses C1 and C2 as 'yaar (friend)' and Johar as 'janab (sir)'.
He asks Johar about his wellbeing, whether he needs anything in Ahmedabad, and tells him C1 and C2 have arranged a temporary job for him as a factory worker.
"Go to the factory, speak to its owner," he tells Johar.
"C1, C2 and Javed Shaikh were LeT's logistics providers and part of its sleeper cell. It was the job of C1 and C2 to receive and accommodate Johar and another Pakistani operative, Amjad Ali, in Ahmedabad on their arrival from Pakistan via J&K," said a government source.
"Shaikh was sent from Maharashtra to assist the proposed terror operation to bump off any of the five targets," the source said, adding that at the time the conversations occurred, "only Modi was in Ahmedabad. The other four were either in Delhi or Maharashtra".
According to the CBI charge sheet, Johar and Ali were picked up and kept in illegal custody in Ahmedabad in April and May of 2004, respectively, by a joint team of the Ahmedabad crime branch and Subsidiary Intelligence Bureau.
The team later intercepted Shaikh and Jahan in June . All four were killed in cold blood on June 15 that year, it says.
The charge sheet is silent on the antecedents of Johar, Shaikh and Jahan and on Muzammil too. But it says "Amjad Ali had stated that he had come to Ahmedabad with a plan to commit a terrorist act at some crowded location".
"The CBI probe is limited to establishing whether the encounter was fake or not. We found it was fake. The four deceased were humans, whether they were terrorists or not does not matter," said a senior CBI source.