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Gujarat, J&K cops differ on Akshardham attack

Josy Joseph in New Delhi | September 24, 2003 18:11 IST
Last Updated: September 24, 2003 18:49 IST

The Akshardham attack was a challenge to the Gujarat police to prove its professionalism that had come into question during the riots that followed the Godhra massacre.

If the findings of the Jammu and Kashmir police are anything to go by, the Gujarat police may be unequal to the task of investigating the conspiracy behind the Akshardham attack where two terrorists killed 28 people exactly a year ago this day.

On August 29, 2003, Ahmedabad Police Commissioner K R Kaushik claimed the city police's Crime Branch had arrested five people for their involvement in the attack.

Two of them -- Mufti Abdul Kayum Mansuri and Maulvi Abdullamian Yasinmian Sayeed -- are religious leaders from the Dariapur area in Ahmedabad and had organised relief camps during the communal riots. Of the other three, Salim Haif Sheikh is from Dariapur while Altaf Akbar Hussain Malek and Adam Suleman Ajmeri from Shahpur, another area in Ahmedabad.

Of these, Sheikh and Malek had worked in the Gulf at various points of time.

Kaushik announced that the five men had confessed to providing 'local support' to the two terrorists who were slain by National Security Guards on September 25, 2002. He said the breakthrough came after the police picked up Sheikh.

The commissioner claimed the attack was an operation mounted jointly by the Lashkar-e-Tayiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad with active support from Pakistan's Inter Service Intelligence. The conspiracy was hatched in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, he claimed, and finalised in Hyderabad.

The Gujarat police claimed the terrorists had explored the possibility of attacking the offices of the Bharatiya Janata Party and Vishwa Hindu Parishad as well as the state secretariat in Gandhinagar, but zeroed in on the Akshardham temple because of the low level of security.

Among the evidence the Gujarat police presented was a letter recovered from the terrorists. Kaushik claimed the letter was drafted by Sayyed and written by Mansuri.

The commissioner said the two terrorists arrived in Gujarat from Pakistan a week before the attack and lived in Ajmeri's house in the city. Ajmeri and another person, Ayub Khan, followed the terrorists in an auto-rickshaw and left the Akshardham area after the attack began, Kaushik added.

Ahmedabad Joint Commissioner of Police C P Pandey told rediff.com that the attack was a "trans-national conspiracy" and that "independent (terrorist) cells" unknown to each other were involved in the attack.

The Ahmedabad police Crime Branch achieved the breakthrough within a day of the case being transferred to it from the state police's anti-terrorist squad.

The investigation looked like a fine piece of professional detection until a couple of days after Kaushik's press conference, when the Jammu and Kashmir police arrested Chand Khan in Srinagar.

Khan told his interrogators that the terrorists who attacked the Akshardham complex were Shakeel and Abdullah, and that the operation was mounted without local support.

Khan and the two terrorists arrived in Ahmedabad on September 23, 2002 and stayed at the Gulshan Guest House near the railway station. The guest house's records support Khan's claim, a police officer in Gujarat told rediff.com

Khan, originally from Bareilly in Uttar Pradesh, left the duo at the temple's gates and returned to Anantnag in Kashmir.

"He (Khan) broke down after we used emotional methods like presenting his wife before him," recalls Inspector General, Kashmir range, K Rajendra.

Khan told the Jammu and Kashmir police that he accompanied the terrorists from Kashmir in a taxi along with his wife and child. After dropping his wife and child in Bareilly, the trio proceeded to Ahmedabad.

Rajendra conceded Khan may not have told the Kashmir police the entire story. "It is for the Gujarat police to pursue investigations based on what he has revealed," he said.

The Gujarat police hinted that Khan may be the third terrorist they had identified as Ayub Khan.

Pandey says there are unavoidable roadblocks in the Gujarat police's investigation. One is the fact that "we cannot go to Pakistan" to verify the credentials of the terrorists killed and their minders.

In early September, a Gujarat police team went to Srinagar with three of the 'accused' in an attempt to 'tie loose ends.'

But the team was embarrassed to find that the three men and Khan did not recognise each other during an identification parade, and never seemed to have met each other. When the team put some pictures before Khan and asked him to pick the two, who according to him, carried out the Akshardham attack, the latter identified the duo, a police officer told rediff.com

On further interrogation, Khan gave accurate answers to questions posed by the Gujarat police team, including the attire and shoes the terrorists wore on the day of the attack.

Khan was taken to Gujarat on September 12, on a transit remand, despite his counsel Hashim Qureshi in Kashmir expressing fears that he may be killed.

On September 23, his advocate told a court in Ahmedabad that the Gujarat police tortured his client of which there were visible signs on his body.

Pandey, however, insists his force is interrogating Khan in a "friendly manner."

"For policemen there are no enemies," the Ahmedabad police officer said. "We do a professional job."

IGP Rajendra believes it is very difficult to make a hardened terrorist confess. "Physical torture doesn't help" as these terrorists are ready to give up their lives, he says. "Investigation is very tough," he explained. "It has to be systematic and includes reconstructing events, exploring various possibilities, motives and interrogating suspects."

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