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Ishrat case: Headley's testimony divides investigators

By Vicky Nanjappa
June 17, 2013 14:58 IST
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While Intelligence Bureau is relying on David Headley’s testimony, the CBI is seeking clarification from the NIA, which rejects the claim that Headley spoke to Ishrat Jahan. Vicky Nanjappa reports

Laskkar-e-Tayliba terrorist David Headley’s role has emerged in the Ishrat Jahan fake encounter case. The Central Bureau of Investigation is also probing the role of an Intelligence Bureau officer, Rajinder Singh, for intentionally providing false information that led to the killing of Ishrat Jahan and three others in June 2004.

So, were Ishrat Jahan and her accomplices really Lashkar-e-Tayiba operatives or was it a stage managed case?

Investigators are laying emphasis on David Headley’s testimony which claims that Ishrat was a Lashkar operative. While the Intelligence Bureau and the Gujarat police are relying heavily on Headley’s testimony to strengthen their case, the CBI has taken into consideration what the National Investigation Agency has to say.

The NIA, which interrogated Headley in the US, had rejected the claim that Headley spoke to Ishrat. The CBI will approach the NIA formally and seek a clarification on this issue.

Ironically, Ishrat does not figure in Headley’s testimony in the NIA report. However, the first investigation conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation clearly mentions in the words of Headley that Ishrat was a Lashkar operative.

An NIA official told that their probe was restricted to the Mumbai 26/11 attack case. “We have studied the FBI probe and there is a mention of Ishrat, but we also realised that Headley never interacted with her. His statements were more of hearsay.”

“When we question him again we will speak about the Ishrat issue since it has become extremely important today. Our 119 page report on Headley has no mention of Ishrat,” the official said.

An Intelligence Bureau official said that they have enough information on the issue and the FBI told them that Ishrat was mentioned as a Lashkar operative by Headley. During the FBI questioning, Headley states she was a suicide bomber and was recruited by Muzzamil a Lashkar commander. But Headley said that he had never met her and added that it was through Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, a founding member of the Lashkar-e-Tayiba, that he had heard about Ishrat.

The Intelligence Bureau has written to the CBI with all these details and quotes the FBI probe extensively. According to the FBI, Ishrat had been recruited to specifically carry out operations in Maharashtra and Gujarat. The FBI also mentions that the targets were religious places.

IB officials say that they had tracked the movement of Ishrat and had inputs about an operation that involved targeting religious places and also assassinating Bharatiya Janata Party leaders L K Advani and Narendra Modi.

CBI sources say that they would try and ascertain facts regarding Ishrat’s association with the Lashkar, but they also add that the focus is more on the encounter and the manner in which it was carried out. Although her antecedents are important, the case is more about the manner in which the operation was carried out.

The CBI will rely more on the NIA probe and the IB would quote the FBI questioning of Headley. The other ray of hope for the IB is the statement made by the Lashkar in the Ghazwa times at Lahore. It said that Ishrat was their operative. This statement was disowned by the Jamat-ud-Dawa.

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