Probing 'Hindu terror' cases: Why NIA remains clueless
Despite leads, the NIA has failed to achieve any breakthrough in the 'Hindu terror' cases. Vicky Nanjappa tells you why.
It is a fact that the acts of terrorism from Nanded to Malegaon were all inter-linked. Although a different set of individuals carried out the attacks, the fact remains that the entire operation emerged from one module.
The National Investigation Agency has ascertained that the ammunition for the blasts in Nanded, Modasa, Samjautha Express, Ajmer, Malegaon and Mecca Masjid in Hyderabad were all procured from Mhow in Madhya Pradesh.
The NIA has many suspects in custody; but there are others who are absconding. It has been almost a year since the NIA was handed over the charge for the above mentioned cases, but there appears to be something wrong with the manner in which the probe is taking place as there is no concrete breakthrough yet.
The NIA probe into cases involving 'Hindu extremists' went wrong from day one. The Nanded blasts, which is considered to be the mother of these acts of terror, was badly investigated, making it tough for NIA sleuths to make a start.
Today the NIA faces the herculean task of cracking all these cases which are inter-linked. Sources in the agency told rediff.com that the foundation of the case itself is extremely weak, which is why they are finding it hard to give it closure.
There are leads in every case, the sources added, but in none of them have NIA detectives achieved a breakthrough.
The NIA confronts problems of inadequate manpower as well as evidence that has either been lost or destroyed.
Take for example the Modasa and Malegaon blasts -- it has just two officers on the job. The Ajmer blasts case, on the other hand, does not have a leader at the moment as three officers have stepped out due to personal reasons.
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Image: The NIA logo
Aseemanand's 'U-turn' puts NIA probe in the dock
The 2007 Samjautha Express blasts investigation too appears to be hitting a dead end as there is no leader in that team as well. In fact this team was pulled up for its slow pace in investigations.
Nearly a year back there was this sensational confession by Swami Aseemanand in the Samjhauta Express blasts case, in which 68 people lost their lives. The NIA thought it had it all cracked. However, there was a major turnaround when the godman refuted his statements alleging that the confession was given under duress.
Had Aseemanand stuck to his confession the scenario would have been entirely different and would have made the job of the agency much easier. However, now they have to start right from scratch as most of the statements will be denied.
To make matters worse, most of the chargesheets that were filed in these cases were very much dependant on the confession of Swami Aseemanand. Now with him refuting the statements, it would be an extremely challenging task to piece together the evidence that they would have to submit before the court.
Image: Swami Aseemanand
Several unanswered questions remain
NIA sources, however, pointed out that they alone cannot be blamed for the slow progress or no progress into these cases. They were probably the third agency to investigate the same case. It started off with the Anti Terrorism Squad then the Central Bureau of Investigation and now the NIA. There has been a lot of activity in between. Ideally the ATS ought to have got it right in Nanded itself as this could have prevented a series of blasts in the days to come.
The CBI too had teething problems while investigating this case. Both the CBI and the NIA point fingers at the ATS and say that had the foundation been strongly laid the investigations would not have been this weak.
However, the Maharashtra ATS has its own defence. A source who was part of the Nanded probe informed that their hands were tied at that point in time.
"In a case of terror one cannot restrict themselves to one place only. During our investigation we did find that the men who took part in the Nanded blasts had been trained in Pune. However, we were not permitted to probe the Pune angle as we were asked to restrict ourselves to Nanded only," the source said.
"The other draw back was that three persons who were involved in Nanded attack were killed during the preparation of the bomb and this weakened the case," he added.
This shows that there was utter confusion since day one and more importantly there will remain several unanswered questions in this case.
Till date the agencies are not able to tell who exactly was the mysterious 'Mithun Chakraborthy' involved in this case. The ATS says it is a fake name, but the fact remains that there was a man like this who played a very vital role in these cases.
Image: The debris of a scooter at the blast site in Nanded, Maharashtra, in 2006
'It would take some time before the wrong has been undone'
While these are details specific to the cases that the NIA are probing, the other headache was the arrest of innocent youth in all these cases. This had to be undone and only then could they start their investigations afresh. The NIA may question some Maharashtra ATS officials who were involved in these cases and find out how exactly such a turn of events take place and why the matter was probed in a different direction.
NIA officials say that there is no cause for panic and these cases will be cracked in good time. There has been plenty of confusion and it would take some time before the wrong has been undone.
The chargesheet is yet to be filed in the Modasa blast case. Most of the work has been done by the Gujarat police and they have registered cases under various sections of the Indian Penal Code and also the Explosives Act.
In the Samjautha blasts case, the chargesheet has been filed, but then again the NIA says that the case would result in a closure once the main accused, who goes by the name Amith and alias Prince, is arrested.
The case of Mecca Masjid blast is almost similar. There is a supplementary chargesheet that has been filed, but then again they have not been able to nab two important players, Sandeep Dange and Ramji Kalasanghra and have also not traced the local module behind this attack. Moreover, there is still confusion as the Hyderabad police continue to hold on to half the case which deals with the unexploded bomb.
Image: Rapid Action Force personnel stand guard besides a burnt carriage of a Samjhauta Express train in Deewana, near Panipat town, on February 19, 2007. Two bombs exploded aboard a train bound for Pakistan, sparking a fire that killed 68 passengers
Photographs: Desmond Boylan/Reuters
Sunil Joshi murder case additional headache for NIA
In the Malegaon and Ajmer case, the chargesheets have been filed, but the NIA is yet to corroborate the evidence and this job has become tougher as Aseemanand who gave the leads through his confession has retracted his statement. Moreover the accused persons who are the same in the Mecca Masjid case are absconding. In addition to the two, names the NIA is also trying to track are Amit, Mehul, Suresh Nair, Bhavesh Patel and Jauyanti Bhai Gohil.
As part of the investigations apart from ascertaining that the material had been procured from Madhya Pradesh and a major part of the financing done by Aseemanand, the agency has also got leads regarding the use of mobile phones. The agency says that the SIM cards were procured from Faridabad near Delhi and all these have a similar number series.
However the NIA is also tasked with an additional headache in these cases and has also been entrusted with the job of probing the mystery murder of former Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh member Sunil Joshi, who was also an accused in the Samjhauta case. It is believed that this killing had a lot to do with these blasts and Joshi could have threatened to spill the beans which eventually led to his murder.
However, this case too appears to be having a tough time since by the time the NIA took over the investigation a lot of material had gone missing. Once again the NIA would point its finger at the Madhya Pradesh police who they feel had gone slow which led to this mess.
Image: Sunil Joshi