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Sunday, Dec 08, 2019

India under siege

A series of blasts in Mumbai suburban trains killed 187 people on July 11, 2006. The quickfire investigation was touted as India ’s anti-terror battle at its best. Insiders say that wasn’t quite the case, Presley Thomas and Neelesh Misra find more... Special coverage

india Updated: Aug 04, 2008 08:03 IST
Presley Thomas and Neelesh Misra
Presley Thomas and Neelesh Misra
Hindustan Times

The senior security official pursed his lips and looked into the switched-off TV for several seconds. The reporter had a simple query: so how did you solve the Mumbai train bombings case?

“Let’s not talk about Mumbai,” said the official, associated closely with the investigation. “There are too many questions. I shall get into trouble if I talk about them.”

A series of blasts in Mumbai suburban trains killed 187 people on July 11, 2006. The quickfire investigation was touted as India ’s anti-terror battle at its best. Insiders say that wasn’t quite the case.

Maharashtra’s intelligence machinery was reeling under repeated transfers. Due to weak anti-terror laws, an alleged conspirator was bailed out in another terrorism case — as in the Varanasi bombings (see India Under Siege-Part 1).

The sequence of arrest of the remaining suspects was odd. As the police carried out Mumbai’s biggest anti-terror crackdown, each of them was said to be sitting in the comfort of his home when arrested. Their narco-analysis tests — not admissible as evidence — are the foundation of the case. Forensic evidence is tardy.

But in the south Mumbai neighbourhood of Byculla, watch repairman Jaiprakash Gurav, 30, has larger questions.

Gurav wants to know what is being done to protect him and other citizens. He deserves an answer: the last time he stood on a train platform — on July 11, 2006 — he lost a leg. “Every time there is a blast, the entire machinery swings into action. But in Mumbai, everything gets back to its old self after a fortnight,” said Gurav.

After the bombings, forensic experts did not take samples for DNA testing — though even exploded bombs can provide the bombers’ DNA from skin tissue or sweat.

Officials had a sketchy defence.

“Collecting DNA samples is practically not feasible in a place like Mumbai and especially when such an incident happens on a crowded suburban train,” said a forensic expert, requesting anonymity.

The probe was handed over to the newly formed Anti-Terrorist Squad (ATS). Several officers with experience of handling terror probes were asked to join. A few did. Many refused, citing personal reasons.

Meanwhile, police had for months been tracking four groups of alleged militants — led by Kamal Ansari, Faisal Sheikh, Ehtesham Siddiqui and Mohammed Ali. Ansari, arrested for allegedly taking Pakistani youth from Kathmandu to Kashmir for the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba, was out on bail. “The problem was, how do you link them to the Mumbai blasts?” an investigator said.

That brought attention to the lone body lying in a Mumbai morgue — an unclaimed man. After 13 people were arrested from their homes, three took the name “Salim” in their narco-analysis. Investigators then decided that the unclaimed body was that of “Salim”, who had planted one of the bombs but could not escape.

Within six months, the ATS said it had cracked the case. Eleven of the accused retracted their confessional statements, saying they were made under duress. The trial has currently been halted by the Supreme Court on a technical plea from the accused.

And the postscript is not a surprise: two years on, the force is still acutely short of police intelligence officers. “With every blast, (militants) try not to repeat the mistakes their counterparts did while conducting a blast,” said a senior IPS officer. “But we take ages … a file takes ages to move from one desk to the other.”