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13/7 blasts case: Did ATS prematurely claim breakthrough?

Last updated on: January 23, 2012 15:10 IST

13/7 blasts case: Did ATS prematurely claim breakthrough?

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Toral Varia Deshpande in Mumbai

As Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad chief Rakesh Maria claimed a breakthrough in the 13/7 Mumbai blasts case on Monday he seems to have ruffled quite a few feathers. Though he junked out reports of a tiff with the special cell of the Delhi police in carrying out the probe, insiders say the arrests of the two Darbhanga operatives were an attempt by the ATS to gain an upper hand in the investigation. Moreover, sources claim that the Ministry of Home Affairs was also upset, as they were not kept in loop about the arrests.

After reports of rivalry within the security forces leading to botched up operations that reportedly cost India one of its 'most wanted', the Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad appears to be making desperate attempts to save its face.

In a press conference called at a short notice, Maharashtra ATS chief Rakesh Maria made three points -- he categorically denied reports of rivalry between his team and the special cell of the Delhi police, expressed displeasure for conducting a press conference prematurely and shared details of 13/7 triple blasts case investigation which is still under progress.

The Maharashtra ATS, during the press conference, announced that a team of as many as 40 officers and over 100 personnel of the ATS have partially achieved success in joining the dots of the mystery behind the 13/7 blasts. Naqqi Ahmed Washi Ahmed Shaikh and Nadeem Akhtar Asfaq Sheikh, residents of Darbangha in Bihar, have been arrested for their role in the attacks. The third accused Haroon Rashid, who was previously arrested by the ATS in connection with a counterfeit currency case, will soon be named an accused too.

Ahmed Zarar Siddibappa alias Yasin Bhatkal alias Imran alias Shahrukh and one 'A' and 'B' have been shown as wanted in the triple bombings case. The ATS also formally released Yasin Bhatkal's picture and appealed to the public to come forward with any information they have on him or his whereabouts.

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Image: Maharashtra ATS chief Rakesh Maria talks about the 13/7 case at a press conference in Mumbai
Photographs: Sahil Salvi/Rediff.com

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Interestingly, the ATS chief argued that 'A' and 'B' have been conclusively identified as the bombers of Opera house and Zaveri Bazaar. They had also rented the apartment at Habib Apartments in Byculla.

A dedicated team of ATS officials analysed footage of as many as 180 CCTV cameras of the blast sites. Footage of a whopping 696 hours was examined before the bombers were identified. "I would not like to elaborate on the details of 'A' and 'B' as it would hamper our investigation. But I can confirm that they are the bombers and were staying at Habib Apartments," said Maria.

According to sources 'A' and 'B' are identified as Tabrez and Wakas.

On the roles of Naqqi Ahmed and Nadeem Akhtar, Maria said that they have been involved in the theft of the scooters, which was used in the execution of the blasts at Zaveri Bazar and Opera House. Naqqi is also allegedly a part of the racket, which was responsible for procuring SIM cards on forged documents.

"It was Naqqi who had given the SIM cards to the accused who were staying here and those very SIM cards were used by the accused for communication," elaborated Maria.


Image: Maria shows pictures of absconding terrorist Yasin Bhatkal


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Meanwhile, Delhi police sources claim that Naqqi was the informer who had led them to the safe house rented by Bhatkal and his associates and was helping the Delhi police tap further leads. The Delhi police had claimed off the record that Naqqi's arrest by the ATS was an attempt to have an upper hand over the investigation and had forced the premature abortion of operation.

The ATS claims that the financial trail of the blast has been identified. The whole operation of executing the 13/7 triple blasts would have cost around Rs 10 lakh , which the ATS suspects to have come via the hawala route.

"Yasin Bhatkal gave Rs 1.5 lakh to Nadeem to assist and facilitate the logistics. It was Yasin who also got he explosives in a cloth to the apartment. We suspect that the IEDs were assembled in the same rented room of the Habib Apartments," informed Maria.

The ATS, which has conducted search and seizure operations of the apartment reportedly rented by the accused, is now hoping to further the investigations with the help of scientific methods. During the search several articles were recovered and seized, including clothes of Naqqi and Nadeem and a computer. "We now want two crucial things to be done. One is to conduct the DNA testing of the clothes belonging to Naqi and Nadeem and secondly, a forensic examination of the room as we suspect that the IEDs were assembled in the same room."


Image: The IM operative, held for his role in the case, is being take to a court in Mumbai


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The ATS claims that it has not only recovered both the scooters used in the execution of 13/7 blasts but two more stolen bikes which the perpetrators were planning to use at a later date. According to the ATS, all the operatives were being directed by Bhatkal whose only job is to recruit new boys from the various areas and indoctrinate them.

In this case it was the Darbangha module that was made active by Bhatkal. "We have evidence to show that Yasin was in touch with Naqqi since 2008. One of the arrested IM operative Gayyur Jamali was he one who introduced the two," said Maria.

Even as the residents of Habib building claim that the wanted accused were around till about January 1 this year, the ATS chief categorically denies it saying that the accused abandoned the apartment when the Delhi police successfully arrested seven Indian Mujahideen operatives.

According to sources, there are call records, electricity bill etc to show that the duo was very much around after the arrest of the other IM suspects.


Image: A policeman stands at the site of an explosion near the Opera House in Mumbai
Photographs: Reuters

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Maria on inter-agency rivalry and competition:

"Ideally we would not want to hold the press conference right now. We would have preferred to hold the press conference after wrapping up the entire investigation. All the speculation, rumourmongering and the so called projected innocence of certain people, so called high handedness of the ATS -- all of this is absolutely unfounded. It's very far from the truth. If you take the history of this case, then the ATS first had a tiff with the crime branch, then the NIA, the ATS got into a fight with the special cell of the Delhi police and now there is infighting within the ATS. I don't know what is left now. So I said, before they do something else its better to hold the press conference," said Maria.

On being asked why he chose not to give any credit to the officers from the special cell of the Delhi police while making special mention of various officers from Punjab and Darbangha, Maria said, "We have been working with the central agencies and have their complete co-operation. We have received inputs from there and have got help from them. Be it, UP, Bihar or Jharkhand -- whenever our teams have gone -- central agencies have helped them. Why I have named particular officers because we have already arrested the accused with their help. We have worked very closely with the Delhi police. I have visited Delhi and discussed the case there. So there is absolutely no basis for this speculation."

Maria further added, "There is bound to be competition and I think it is good that there is competition. Which agency or an officer in this country would not want to solve a blast case."



Image: A policeman stands guard at the site of an explosion in the Zaveri Bazar
Photographs: Reuters
Tags: ATS , Maria , Delhi , NIA , UP

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