They broke one of Obaid-ur-Rehman’s fingers during interrogation. He told me
that when I met him in jail. It looked so bad that I doubt if the finger can
ever be fixed.
—Journalist Muthi-ur-Rahman Siddiqui, who was released after six months in jail on charges of being part of an LeT sleeper cell in Bangalore
On the morning of August 30, 2012, Obaid-ur-Rehman, a third year B.Com
student, left his house in Hyderabad, telling his family he was visiting some
friends. Evening arrived but he was still away, so his younger siblings and
mother tried calling him. His cell phone was switched off. As dusk fell, the family started getting worried. They began calling school and
college friends, asking for Obaid. No one had heard from him.
Early next morning, the family says they sent a telegram to the police commissioner’s office saying Obaid was missing. There was no response.
Obaid is the eldest of six siblings. His father, who had worked as a fuel injection engineer for 20 years at the Bosch factory in Hyderabad, died five years ago. His death was a financial blow but the children continued their education and Obaid started a business selling clothes and shoes even as he studied. When he started B.Com at the Anwar-Ul-Uloom College, he started dreaming of doing an MBA. “He hoped to go to Saudi after that and get a good job,” says his brother.
Fearing that he might have been injured in an accident, the family did the
rounds of city
hospitals. By the afternoon of the next day, they had their first piece of news. A lawyer relative had heard from a policeman that Obaid had been arrested. By 4 p.m. the relative confirmed that the boy had indeed been arrested.
In violation of the rules, Obaid’s family had not been told of the arrest or the reason for it. On September 1, the news channels said Obaid had been arrested for an alleged terror plot busted by Karnataka police. Hyderabad police had handed him over to its officers and they had taken him to Bangalore.
Three days earlier, on August 29, plainclothes officers from the Central
Crime Branch (CCB) had raided a house in J. C. Nagar, Bangalore. Five young
working professionals shared accommodation on the second floor, all under 27,
all Muslim. Within minutes the occupants were bundled into waiting police vans.
Around the same time in Hubli, another CCB team arrested three Muslim youths. They were charged with being members of Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and Harkat-ul-Jihad al-Islami (HuJI). The Bangalore police claimed to have busted a sleeper cell planning to assassinate leading journalists, politicians, and public figures in Karnataka. A total of 15 young men were arrested from Bangalore, Hubli and Nanded in Maharashtra.
Police said during interrogation, they learned the plot extended to Hyderabad. According to their information, Obaid-ur-Rehman was an LeT operative planning to assassinate Sreenivas Reddy, a Hyderabad councillor. This was what led to his arrest.
But for Obaid, the link with terror goes a long way back. It started with
the Babri Masjid demolitions in 1992, and the protests that followed in his
home city of Hyderabad.
It started with a man named Maulana Naseeruddin.
Maulana Naseeruddin Mohammed Hannefuddin, incarcerated as an undertrial
under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA) since 2004, had a frequent visitor
at Sabarmati Jail, Ahmedabad: his great-nephew Obaid. Naseeruddin was arrested
by the Gujarat police over an ISI-backed terror plot to avenge the Godhra
riots, the so-called “ISI conspiracy case”. He had already faced arrest in two
other cases investigated by the Hyderabad police. He was acquitted in the
first, where he was accused of aiding a Pakistani terrorist. In the second,
Naseeruddin was accused of conspiring to blow up a Ganapati temple in
Hyderabad. He got bail for that.
Obaid was close to his great-uncle, says Naseeruddin’s brother Mohammed Rafiuddin. The boy grew closer to Naseeruddin’s family after his sons were also arrested. Obaid was constantly in and out of Naseeruddin’s house in Hyderabad as a teenager, helping his great-uncle’s distraught wife and daughters run the household. He also accompanied them on their frequent visits to Ahmedabad. Rafiuddin thinks this brought Obaid under the Hyderabad police scanner.
In 2007, the Karnataka police arrested Naseeruddin’s youngest son, Nasar. He was later also arrested by Gujarat police, for allegedly carrying out the Ahmedabad bomb blasts.
Six months later, two other sons, Yasir and Jaber, were arrested by Madhya Pradesh police for being part of an alleged Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) conspiracy to carry out a series of attacks in that state.
A tall man, Naseeruddin’s height is accentuated by the dark woollen caps he wears. Always well-dressed in impeccably ironed clothes, a long silver beard flows from his lined face, almost to his chest. Heavily built, his movements are measured and slow, but when he talks, his speech is brisk and forceful.
Naseeruddin was arrested for the first time in 1975 during the Emergency. He was a member of the Jamaat-e-Islami Hind, an organisation banned during the period. Naseeruddin spent three months in prison in Nagpur. After his release, he returned to Hyderabad and started a garage in partnership with a Hindu colleague. It was successful.
In the 1980s, post-Indira Gandhi, the political landscape was being reshaped by the Ram Janmabhoomi movement in the north. In 1985, Rajiv Gandhi opened the locks of the Babri Masjid, allowing Hindus to worship.
The Nineties began with the two events that strongly define Muslim identity and politics to the present day. The first was an upsurge in the insurgency in Kashmir. The second was the demolition of the Babri Masjid by Hindu mobs on December 6, 1992.
By that time, Naseeruddin, who has been delivering sermons on Islam for many years, had turned into a political agitator. In fiery speeches he asked Muslims in the city to organise themselves to oppose the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). He advocated a harder posture if Muslims were to protect themselves and the Babri Masjid. He formed an organisation called the Tahreek Tahfuz Shariat-e-Islami (Movement for Protection of Islamic Law).
The demolition was followed by Hindu-Muslim riots in several cities including Mumbai, Delhi, Ahmedabad, and Surat. In 1993, serial bomb blasts in Mumbai killed over 250 people. In the next two decades, almost 40 major terror attacks killed nearly 1,800 people. Altogether, 189 major Hindu-Muslim riots were reported from different places from December 1990 to May 2003. According to a report on communal riots in post-independence India published by the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies, at least 5,500 people died in these riots, the majority being Muslims.
In Hyderabad, there were large protests and curfew was clamped in the city after the Masjid demolition. Black flag marches, rasta rokos, public meetings, and dharnas abounded. Many Hindus joined the protests. On December 7, 1992, 13 Muslims were killed in police firing. The protests were aimed not only at the BJP but also the Narasimha Rao government.
Hyderabad then was not the sprawling metropolis it is today. The rich still lived in large, sleepy bungalows with wide courtyards. Clusters of small markets lined the city’s thoroughfares, where people haggled over grocery prices. Posh residential areas like Jubilee Hills and Banjara Hills were then undistinguished localities. Even at that time, however, Abids was one of the busiest commercial areas of Hyderabad. More so, as it was a single-stop destination for shoppers who did not have the options the city boasts today.
It was the scene of a most unusual protest on New Year’s Day, 1993. That afternoon, around 40 men gathered on the main road. A crowd lined up along the shops and traffic came to a halt as the men went down on their knees facing Mecca. By the time the men, including Naseeruddin, finished their namaaz, a few hundred supporters had gathered. Within minutes, the Hyderabad police swooped in and arrested the worshippers and many bystanders.
Mujahid Hashmi was then the Hyderabad in-charge of the All India Babri Masjid Action Committee. He wanted to hold a big protest to send a message across the country. He met Naseeruddin for the first time at a meeting called by the committee.
The Nineties began with two events that strongly define Muslim identity and politics. The first was an upsurge in insurgency in Kashmir. The second was the demolition of the Babri Masjid by Hindu mobs on December 6, 1992.
“Naseeruddin came up with a wonderful idea. He said we need a method of
non-violent protest that would have a strong political impact. Since our right
to worship had been attacked, we should gather as many boys as we could and
perform namaaz in public. We were sure the police would arrest us,”
Mujahid and Naseeruddin decided to trade numbers for secrecy. Knowing the police would not allow the protest, they organised a small group, mainly young men in their twenties. “The police arrived in minutes. However, we did not do anything violent. We stood in queue to get into police jeeps. But, after arresting over 60 of us, the police lathi-charged the crowd, though the protest was peaceful,” says Mujahid.
They were taken to the Abids police station where they waited for the FIR to be filed. Mujahid Hashmi was named first accused and Maulana Naseeruddin third accused under TADA. Sixty-six protestors were charged under the now lapsed anti-terrorism act.
“The assistant commissioner of police in charge was a nice man. He was a Hindu, but secular. I was sitting across from him at his desk when he got a call from his superiors,” recalls Mujahid.
“I still remember his reaction after he finished talking. His head was in his hands. ‘What is happening in this country? Namaaz padne ke liye logon par TADA kaise laga sakte hain?’ (How can you charge people under TADA for reading the namaaz?) He apologised to me and said he was being compelled.”
Along with scores of others, Naseeruddin and Mujahid were sent to Musheerabad jail. While the court did not grant bail, there was a massive public backlash against the state government for invoking TADA. The equating of Islamic prayers with terrorism spurred protests from Muslims across the country. After two months, bowing to pressure, police dropped the charges. Naseeruddin was free. For the time being.
After his arrest, Naseeruddin was expelled by the Jamaat-e-Islami. He grew
closer to SIMI, which he felt followed the teachings of Abul A’la Maududi, the
founded of Jamaat-e-Islami. He attended public meetings and programmes
organised by SIMI, though he says he never became a formal member, even when
the organisation was legal.
“He was frequently harassed and summoned to the police station where he was questioned like a criminal,” says his brother Rafiuddin.
In 1995, a young man from Kashmir called Junaid Ishtiaq came to Hyderabad.
He carried tales of human rights violations by the security forces in the
Valley: stories of extra-judicial killings, mass rapes, and illegal detentions.
“He told me what was happening in Kashmir. He said 50 per cent of the women had
been raped by the army. He asked me for help. I gave him a house on rent and
helped him settle down. I financed him for a commercial loading vehicle and
also arranged his marriage.”
In 2008, Ishtiaq was arrested by on charges of being a Pakistani national and ISI agent. Hyderabad police said they recovered arms and explosives and that he was planning terror attacks in Hyderabad. Naseeruddin was arrested as a conspirator, and charged under several sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), including instigating hatred against other religious communities and facilitating the commission of a crime.
“I did not know if the accusation that he was from Pakistan was true. I believed he was from Kashmir. But even if he had told me he was from Pakistan, I would have helped because I knew Muslims were being persecuted everywhere. In any case, I had no connection other than helping him settle down. The case was a fabrication,” says Naseeruddin.
He spent six months in Muzaffarabad jail in Hyderabad before getting bail. In
2002, the sessions court acquitted him of all charges. Ishtiaq was convicted of
attempting to carry out a terrorist act.
Naseeruddin continued to annoy the authorities with high-profile protests.
“In 2002, after the Gujarat riots, I made several speeches. This really made
the police angry. Thousands of Muslims had been killed by the BJP and RSS in
Gujarat. I told people who would listen that Muslims cannot survive if we do
not act and that if we are attacked we should reply in kind,” says Naseeruddin.
When American ambassador Robert Blackwill visited Hyderabad in October 2002, Naseeruddin and members of the Majlis Bachao Tehrik tried to gherao his car. They shouted slogans against the American occupation in Afghanistan. Naseeruddin was booked for disturbing public peace.
On August 29, 2004, seven alleged LeT operatives were arrested by the Hyderabad police for planning to blow up a Ganapati temple in Secunderabad. Naseeruddin too was arrested with them. The police said they recovered explosives, a pistol, and two stolen motorcycles from the men.
At a press conference the same day, commissioner of police R. P. Singh said the suspects were planning to construct an improvised explosive device (IED), to blow up the temple on Ganesh Chaturthi. Singh said Naseeruddin was in contact with LeT leader Abu Hamza. The police claimed he had ideologically prepared the group for jihad and bankrolled their plans. The magistrate remanded Naseeruddin to judicial custody. TADA had lapsed in 1994 and so police charged him under the IPC.
Since 2002, Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi was a particular target of Naseeruddin’s speeches. While raising funds for Godhra riot victims, he exhorted Hyderabad’s Muslims to do something for their brothers and sisters in Gujarat. Nasseeruddin not only accused the Andhra Pradesh police and government of being communal, but alleged that the sentiment emanated from Gujarat. During the Ganesh mandir bomb blast trial, Gujarat police officers appeared in the courtroom and produced a warrant for Naseeruddin over a series of terror cases being tried by a Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA) court in Ahmedabad. This included an alleged conspiracy to kill Modi.
The judge rejected the warrant as invalid as it did not bear the signature of the magistrate presiding over the POTA court. “They knew they did not have enough to hold me. And I had criticised Gujarat as the centre of Hindu communalism. Jab main jail mein tha, woh taye kiya ki isko Gujarat bhej dete hain. (When I was in jail, they decided to send me to Gujarat.)”
Naseeruddin turned out to be right about the evidence. Forty-five days after his arrest, the Hyderabad court granted bail. Eleven years later, the case has not been concluded. Once out, Naseeruddin went back to making speeches. In the month he was free in 2004, he raked up the issue of alleged fake encounters of Muslims by Hyderabad police in the immediate aftermath of Babri Masjid.
On October 31, 2004, the lives of Naseeruddin, his family, and his friends were changed forever. It was Ramzan. After breaking his fast in the evening, Naseeruddin went to the DGP’s office to sign the register, as part of bail conditions for the Ganapathi mandir case. He was accompanied by his lawyer Saifulla and a few friends. The officer recording his attendance led him to the DGP’s room. There were two men Naseeruddin did not know. The first was assistant commissioner of Gujarat police Narendra Amin, and the second, circle inspector of Gujarat police Tarun Barot.
“They produced a warrant from the POTA court in Ahmedabad and said they wanted to arrest me for involvement in the murder of Haren Pandya. It was the same warrant they had brought earlier. It had no authorising signature from the magistrate,” says Naseeruddin. Haren Pandya, former home minister of Gujarat, was killed in mysterious circumstances in 2003 in Ahmedabad. No one has yet been convicted, but Pandya’s family has alleged that it was a political killing and not an act of terror, and that Modi was responsible.
When he pointed out that the warrant was invalid, Tarun Barot grabbed him by the shoulder. “He shouted: ‘Bade, bade batein kya kar rahe ho? Chalo! Bahut, ho gaya!’ (‘You are talking big? Let’s go! Enough is enough!’), as gunmen surrounded me. At that, I took out the money and papers from my pockets and handed it to my lawyer. We talked for five minutes and then police led me to a waiting van. We went out the backdoor,” Naseeruddin says.
A crowd had gathered by that time. News had spread that the Gujarat police were taking Naseeruddin. He says he saw about 40 people: friends, relatives, and neighbours. Some protestors had grabbed the ignition key of the police van. The crowd then sat on the road and started raising slogans. They blocked the way and refused to let take Naseeruddin. Soon, the local police also arrived.
It has been eight years, but Abdul Aleem Islahi hasn’t stopped mourning
for his son. Mujaheed Saleem died in the protests to free Naseeruddin, Islahi’s
neighbour as well as friend. The police say an irate mob grabbed Naseeruddin
and attacked them with stones. Mujaheed’s family says there was no attack and
that Barot shot him in cold blood.
A dignified-looking man with silver hair and a small beard, Islahi is dressed in white and wears a skullcap. He speaks slowly, as if words are summoned from a buried well of memory and spoken with care.
For a man speaking about the killing of his first-born, there is not a trace of anger in his voice. Instead, there is a faint sadness tinged with resignation.
“They registered two cases: FIR 8/82/2004 under Section 307 of the IPC and 8/83/2004 under Section 302. They said the accused attacked Gujarat police. A few people were arrested at that time and the rest declared absconders. My younger son, Moutasim Billah, was made an accused. The police did not register an FIR against the Gujarat officers at first, even though we demanded it. A murder had been committed and an FIR should automatically be registered, isn’t it so? The government eventually ordered a magisterial enquiry. It is still pending,” he says.
Like Naseeruddin, Islahi too traces his political involvement as well as his family’s tryst with terror to Babri Masjid. A preacher like Naseeruddin, Islahi wrote a book about the demolition and argued that Muslims must engage in an uncompromising struggle to regain possession of Babri Masjid and restore it.
As he got involved in the restoration movement, Mujaheed was entering high school. In college, Mujaheed started attending programmes organised by SIMI before it was banned in 2001. He also made friends with members of Al-Umma, the banned Tamil Nadu-based Islamic organisation. A while before his death, some of his friends came and stayed with him in Hyderabad. It would prove costly for Islahi’s family.
Naseeruddin’s recollection of events in front of the DGP’s office supports the claims of Mujaheed’s family. “There was no attack as alleged. The crowd prevented the police from taking me to the van and took out the keys. Once the local police came, there was a scuffle. Some boys came and grabbed me by my arms and started pulling me away. They might have pulled me ten or fifteen yards. Then a series of shots rang out. Tarun Barot had shot Mujaheed. It was murder. No warning shots were fired to disperse the crowd. Instead, the Gujarat officers fired into the crowd,” says Naseeruddin. He sighs. “It is a pity. Accha ladka tha. (He was a good boy.)”
Naseeruddin was taken to Gujarat the next day by train. The POTA court in Ahmedabad remanded him first to police and then later to judicial custody in Sabarmati jail.
At a press briefing on November 2, D. G. Vanzara, then Gujarat Crime Branch additional commissioner, said, “Naseeruddin was the spiritual guru to many criminals wanted in Gujarat and Hyderabad for terrorist activities, mainly that which were taken up as revenge after the Godhra communal riots.”
Some boys came and grabbed me by my arms and started pulling me away. They might have pulled me ten or fifteen yards. Then a series of shots rang out. Tarun Barot had shot Mujaheed. It was murder.
The Gujarat police charged him in what came to be called the ISI conspiracy case. According to Vanzara, Naseeruddin “motivated and instigated” six youths from Ahmedabad and 14 from Hyderabad to join terrorist camps in Pakistan. Vanzara said that in his capacity as head of the Tahreek-Tahfuz-Shar-e-Islam, Naseeruddin was acting for Abu Hamza, said to be an LeT commander operating out of Saudi Arabia.
Abu Hamza alias Abu Jundal was arrested by the Delhi police in June last year. Police believe Hamza was one of the handlers who trained the ten terrorists who attacked Mumbai in 2008, killing 166 people.
On May 18, 2007, a bomb blast outside Mecca Masjid killed seven people.
The Hyderabad police arrested dozens of young Muslim men as part of
investigations into the blast, attributed to the Indian Mujahideen.
According to the police, under interrogation, some of the accused named Mujaheed’s younger brother, Moutasim Billah, as part of the conspiracy. Islahi’s younger son was by that time an engineering student. A dark boy with a thin face and oily hair falling over his forehead, Billah was politically active.
He had several cases pending, including a rioting case for the incident in which his brother was shot, and for taking part in a protest against the US presence in Afghanistan.
In March 2008, a van drew up to the street in Saidabad where Naseeruddin and Islahi’s families lived. Billah was picked up from outside his house, blindfolded and thrown into the van, which drove off. According to Billah, no arrest warrant was produced and his family was not informed. What followed was not an interrogation, but a series of accusations, says Billah.
“They just wanted me to admit I was a terrorist. They kept saying they knew my brother was in SIMI and that he was a terrorist. They said they knew about his connections with Al-Umma and that my father was a radical Islamist. They would not allow me to say I was innocent,” Billah says.
He says he was subjected to torture over the next few days. “I was hit continuously with sticks and rubber truncheons. They made me sign on a blank piece of paper. When I was produced in court, the police submitted a forged confessional statement using the paper I was forced to sign.”
After Billah’s arrest, his mother and a group of women, including Naseeruddin’s wife and sisters, from the neighbourhood went to the Saidabad police station and demanded the whereabouts of Billah.
There are no independent witnesses to what occurred next. The women say the police beat them with lathis inside the station. Police say the women barged into the station and started attacking the policemen, who defended themselves. The women were arrested and charged with rioting and spent two weeks in jail before securing bail.
Billah was not implicated in the blasts. Instead he was charged with conspiring with a group of other alleged terrorists during a meeting at a graveyard in Hyderabad, to incite Hindu-Muslim violence. After three months in jail, Billah obtained bail. In December 2008, all the accused in the “graveyard conspiracy” were acquitted.
Later, those arrested for the Mecca Masjid conspiracy disowned the confessions on which Billah was arrested. They said it was extracted under torture. The NIA and the CBI arrested members of several radical Hindu organisations for the Samjhauta Express, Malegaon, and Mecca Masjid blasts. The state government dropped charges against those arrested for the Mecca Masjid blasts and announced compensation.
Arrest, bail, lawyers and prison visits had become routine for
Naseeruddin’s family by the time he was detained by the Gujarat police in 2004.
Once he was taken to Ahmedabad, the burden on the family increased multi-fold.
To see Naseeruddin, they had to travel from Hyderabad every month. They engaged
a lawyer in Ahmedabad to fight the case as proceedings were in Gujarati.
But compared to most of the young men arrested for the Mecca Masjid blasts, the family was affluent. They had a thriving business run by Naseeruddin’s first three sons: Mohammad Imaduddin Amer, Mohammad Muqueemuddin Yasir, and Mohammad Baleghuddin Jaber. The fourth and youngest brother, Mohammad Raziuddin Nasar, was in school when Naseeruddin was taken away to Gujarat.
After almost five years in jail as an undertrial, the Supreme Court granted Naseeruddin bail in September 2009. He was acquitted in the ISI case in 2010. The Gujarat government did not appeal the decision.
Amin, promoted to assistant commissioner of police, Ahmedabad crime branch, was arrested in 2007 by the CBI for the alleged encounter death of Sohrabbudin Sheikh and his wife Kausar Bi in 2008, then for the death of Ishrat Jahan, a Mumbai college girl, and three of her friends in another alleged encounter on the outskirts of Ahmedabad in 2012. He is still in Sabarmati jail.
Tarun Barot acquired a reputation as an encounter specialist and was promoted to deputy superintendent of police. He was arrested in September 2012 in connection with the death of Sadiq Jamal Mehtar in an alleged encounter in Ahmedabad in 2003. Barot is also an accused in the Ishrat Jahan case and is in Sabarmati jail.
Tarun Barot acquired a reputation as an encounter specialist and was promoted to deputy superintendent of police. He was arrested in September 2012 in connection with the death of Sadiq Jamal Mehtar in an alleged encounter in Ahmedabad in 2003. Barot is also an accused in the Ishrat Jahan case and is in Sabarmati jail.
D. G. Vanzara was arrested in 2007 by the Gujarat Crime Investigation Department (CID) as one of the prime accused in the Sohrabbudin Sheikh killing. Earlier this year, CBI arrested him for the Ishrat Jahan encounter. P. P. Pandey, then Ahmedabad police commissioner who provided the intelligence input that launched the investigation into the ISI conspiracy case, surrendered before a CBI court last month after charges were framed in the Ishrat Jahan case.
In 2007, Safdar Nagori, former general secretary of the banned SIMI, came
to Hyderabad. He was ostensibly collecting money for victims of the Godhra
riots. Security agencies claim Nagori was collecting funds for jihadi
activities. One of the houses he visited was Naseeruddin’s. According to
Rafiuddin, the brothers contributed approximately ₹2,500 to a relief fund. By
this time, Nagori’s name was being mentioned in anti-terrorism circles in
connection with jihad.
On March 27, 2008, Nagori was arrested on terrorism charges along with several former SIMI members from a house in Indore. Simultaneously, five alleged SIMI men were arrested from a house in the nearby district of Dhar.
Naseeruddin’s second son, Yasir, is a tall man with big eyes and wavy black hair that frames his long face. He keeps a beard that spreads out under his chin and sports a sharply trimmed moustache. Before the organisation was banned, Yasir was involved with SIMI activities in college. He had gone on to finish an MBA and after his father’s arrest was running the family garage.
On July 15, 2008, 25-year-old Yasir was returning from work on his motorbike. A year earlier, Hyderabad had become the target of another terror attack: twin blasts within minutes of each other at an amusement park and an eatery. He says it was 8.30 p.m. when he stopped his bike at a traffic signal and noticed a van in front of him. Its doors suddenly swung open, revealing four men inside. Two ran out and before he could react, Yasir says he was pulled from the two-wheeler. He still doesn’t know what happened to his motorbike.
The men carried him towards the van and pushed into the back seat. The doors clanged and as a blindfold closed over his eyes, the van lurched forward. More than four years later, he can’t recall his thoughts at the moment. But he remembers the fear.
He was driven to an unknown place. He never saw the faces of his captors, nor does he know how many were there. The blindfold was kept on throughout the night and he was tortured for information about his alleged involvement in the 2007 twin blasts.
Yasir says police beat him on the soles of the feet with rubber truncheons. Though excruciatingly painful, it doesn’t leave marks. They demanded that he sign a confession he had executed the bomb blasts. Yasir says he refused.
He says a man then grabbed his head, while two others started pulling his legs apart. They continued stretching his legs as far apart as they could while the blindfolded Yasir yelled in agony. Throughout the ordeal, he says he did not see the faces of any of his interrogators. But from the conversation, he gathered there were officers from several departments in the room, including the Intelligence Bureau (IB) and the SIT (Special Investigation Team).
The next morning, he was driven, blindfold intact, to another location. The blindfold was removed when he was in front of a staircase. He was led up it to an apartment. Yasir realised he had been taken directly to the judge’s house. The judge asked whether police had hit him. He said that he had been tortured, but couldn’t identify the officers.
The judge sent Yasir to Cherlapally jail and ordered the jail doctor to conduct tests. Yasir says he could hardly walk and that he was given painkiller shots, ointments, and tablets. After three days, he was produced in court and the SIT demanded custody for further interrogation. The judge declined police custody and remanded Yasir to 14 days’ judicial custody.
He was sent back to jail, to await the filing of the SIT chargesheet. In jail, he caught his name and photograph being flashed across news channels. “I was watching all these announcements on the TV. My name was mentioned by many news channels as a prime suspect in the blasts and as an LeT operative. But I knew police had no evidence. I thought I will get off because they will not file a chargesheet.”
Yasir was correct. But that would not matter.
Naseeruddin’s third son, Mohammad Baleghuddin Jaber, did not consent to be interviewed for this story. A few days after Yasir’s arrest, the police got a warrant for the arrest of Jaber, 23, doing his B. Tech. According to his uncle Rafiuddin, after Yasir’s arrest, the family decided Jaber had to go underground. He shifted to the house of an acquaintance in another part of the city. He was arrested in the last week of August.
Rafiuddin claims that by that time, they had decided Jaber should surrender in front of the court as no other legal options were open. Rafiuddin claims the police arrested Jaber on the eve of his planned surrender, and believes they were tipped off by an informer among the family’s own circle of acquaintances.
When the family filed a habeas corpus petition, the police produced Jaber in court on September 1. In a press conference, then Hyderabad police commissioner B. Prasada Rao said Jaber had been arrested for links with SIMI and for supplying Safdar Nagori with a CD containing jihadi material when he visited Hyderabad. His family claims Jaber was tortured to extract a confession.
In the early hours of October 17, 2008, Yasir and Jaber were informed by the
jail authorities in Hyderabad that a warrant for their arrest had come from
Madhya Pradesh. Issued by a court in Dhar near Indore, it alleged that they had
been part of a SIMI conspiracy to carry out a series of attacks in retaliation
“I had never gone to Madhya Pradesh, let alone Dhar. We realised Hyderabad police were using the case to keep us in jail, since they could not include us in the blasts,” says Yasir.
They did not get time to talk to their lawyers. On the morning of October
18, they were put on a train to Indore, accompanied by half a dozen constables.
A jeep sent by the Dhar station house officer (SHO) was waiting outside Indore
In yet another police station, Yasir was revisited by his Hyderabad nightmare: more beatings, threats and torture. “The officer told me we know from the Hyderabad police that you are prime suspects in the twin blasts. And they beat us so that we would confess to the Dhar conspiracy,” says Yasir.
After more than a week of illegal custody, he says they were produced in a court in Dhar. “We were tortured in custody. Initially, the police thought we were big SIMI leaders because that is what they had been told by Hyderabad. Soon they realised we had nothing to do with SIMI,” says Yasir.
Yasir overheard a Dy. SP rank officer and an inspector discussing the case. “I heard the Dy. SP telling the inspector these people are innocent and have been unnecessarily implicated. He said there was a lot of pressure from Hyderabad, especially the state IB, to include us in the case,” says Yasir.
The tragedy is that I never met any of the people with whom I am supposed to have conspired till I saw them in jail.
Yasir says he met his co-accused for the first time in jail. “The tragedy is that I never met any of the people with whom I am supposed to have conspired till I saw them in jail. I did not get to talk too much. But I think they were all innocent. I don’t think they were even former SIMI members,” he says.
The police case was that Yasir and Jaber travelled to Dhar to attend SIMI meetings and helped organise training sessions for SIMI cadres in jihad. The accused also allegedly send SIMI youth to Pakistan for training by groups such as LeT.
“The police claimed that Yasir and Jaber had handed over a CD containing jihadi material to Safdar Nagori in Hyderabad,” says Wajid Khan, the Indore-based lawyer who represented Yasir and Jaber.
The district bar association passed a resolution that no lawyer in Dhar would represent anyone accused in terror or SIMI-related cases. With no legal counsel willing to represent them, the family engaged a lawyer from nearby Ujjain, Noor Mohammed.
When he appeared in Dhar court he was attacked by a group of alleged VHP and Bajrang Dal activists and allegedly manhandled by lawyers inside the courtroom in front of the magistrate.
When Noor Mohammad came to file a bail application, he was attacked by Hindutva activists as he left the court. He was beaten so badly that he had to be hospitalised.
“After this, we decided to get a Hindu lawyer from Indore, Amar Singh Rathore. But when he arrived in Dhar, he too was attacked. The mob caught him and blackened his face. It was caught on video by news channels,” says Yasir.
Naseeruddin’s wife and brother realised that as long as the trial was in Dhar, there would be no chance of getting the boys out. They decided to hire an Indore-based lawyer and try to shift the trial. When Wajid Khan took the case, he moved an application in the Indore High Court to move the trial to Indore.
Video footage of the attack on Rathore was introduced as evidence to show a fair trial would be impossible in Dhar. The petition dragged on for more than a year. In December 2009, the HC ordered the trial transferred to the Indore sessions court.
Though Yasir and Jaber were shifted to Indore prison, even after a year no charges were framed. When their bail application reached the Supreme Court, it declined, reasoning that since the accused were from a different state they would not attend the hearings. But taking note of the delay, it passed instructions to the lower court to expedite the trial. Despite the order, the case continued at a glacial pace.
In the summer months, especially May, temperatures in Indore cross 40°C, sometimes touching 45°C. The undertrials in the SIMI cases were in a separate high-security area. Yasir says while ordinary prisoners had access to basic amenities as well as the TV and even DVD players, the small, cramped cell in which the SIMI prisoners were kept did not have a fan or light.
“The heat was so bad that we could not sleep at night. We made several applications to the authorities, but they were turned down.” The brothers moved the court, but it said it had no power to interfere and they must abide by jail regulations. Yasir says the jail staff’s presumption of their guilt played a part in the refusal to improve living conditions.
“The staff often behaved in a communal manner. The jailer used to say that for
what we have done, the treatment we were getting was not enough. When we made
requests for a fan, he used to say that this is not a hotel or resort. We had
to live by the system in place.”
When the SC order to expedite the trial was not implemented by the Sessions court, Wajid Khan filed a petition in the Madhya Pradesh High Court. By this time, Yasir and Jaber had spent almost three years as undertrials. The HC ordered the trial completed in three months. After the order, hearings became more regular. Even then, the trial took 13 months.
On September 13, 2012, Yasir and Jaber were acquitted of all charges. The others were sentenced to five years in prison.
titled “On the trail of SIMI and LeT in Karnataka”.
During the four years that Maulana Naseeruddin spent in Sabarmati jail as
undertrial, he saw his four sons only when they came to visit him. In 2007, his
youngest, Raziuddin Nasar, stopped visiting him as he left for Saudi Arabia.
Naseeruddin has seen his younger son only twice after that. Both times were
inside Sabarmati jail, where he was brought in 2008 as an accused in the
Nasar remains in Sabarmati jail, more than five years after his arrest. With the Gujarat government yet to examine the majority of its witnesses, the trial is in its early stages.
According to Naseeruddin’s family, Nasar was the most religious among the siblings. He wanted to go to Saudi Arabia for religious studies. Once there, he told the family he wanted to continue living there and study further at Medina University. At some point, Nasar stopped calling. “Naturally, we were worried. But given his religious inclination, we consoled ourselves that he might have gone as a pilgrim to Mecca and Medina. We could not re-establish contact with him,” says Rafiuddin.
The first news they got about him was not from Saudi Arabia, but from Hubli,
a small town in north Karnataka. On January 25, 2008, TV breaking news
proclaimed that a SIMI terror module had been busted by the Karnataka police
and 18 SIMI members were arrested. One of the prime accused was Raziuddin
Karnataka police say they arrested Nasar and Mohammed Asadulla on their way to Hubli from Davanagere on a motorbike. On interrogation, they revealed that they were part of SIMI. Using Hubli as a base, they were planning a series of terrorist attacks across Karnataka.
The police searched Asadulla’s house in Hubli and recovered alleged jihadi literature. Based on the information revealed by Nasar and Asadulla in custody, they arrested 16 more men. Among them were students pursuing professional courses, including a gold medal-winning medical student at the Karnataka Institute of Medical Sciences (KIMS) named Mohammed Asif.
The plot that emerged from investigations was a nefarious one. The accused were part of a SIMI hit squad planning bomb attacks at several high-profile targets, including tourist spots in Goa and offices of Infosys in Bangalore.
“All the 18 accused were active members of SIMI, and they were under
surveillance for some time. The accused were holding secret meetings in hotels
and forests, and they had confessed of their plan to do terror acts,” says the
Nasar’s family has a different story. Towards the end of 2007, according to Rafiuddin, Nasar’s permit expired and he was deported from Saudi Arabia. He landed at Mumbai airport, from where he planned to travel to Hyderabad.
A few weeks after his arrest by Karnataka police, Rafiuddin met Nasar in Hubli jail. The first time he talks about the events surrounding Nasar’s arrest, he cannot recall the name of the town. “I had been to so many places in those years. The name is escaping me now. It was a remote place in Karnataka. But I remember meeting him in jail for the first time and the conversation,” he says.
“He told me that when he alighted at Bombay airport in December, he was arrested by officers of RAW (Research and Analysis Wing). He says he was in the custody of Maharashtra police and they handed him over to Karnataka police. He told me he was taken by Karnataka police from Mumbai and brought to Hubli. He said he was tortured and made to sign a confession that he was arrested from Hubli and was part of a SIMI plot,” says Rafiuddin.
On July 26, 2008, several bombs exploded in Ahmedabad in the space of a few hours, killing 56 and injuring 250. Over the next few years, the Gujarat police arrested more than 70 people for involvement. Many of the accused are involved in more than one case in different states. Several of those arrested in the Hubli SIMI conspiracy case, including Nasar, were booked for the Ahmedabad blasts.
In August, Nasar was transported to Sabarmati jail under a warrant issued by the Ahmedabad trial court. The court rejected his bail application. Charges were filed by the Gujarat police. Subsequent bail applications in the higher courts were turned down.
In the chargesheet filed on July 26, 2008, Gujarat police charged Nasar and his co-accused for sedition and attempt to spread enmity between different communities.
While media stories (usually quoting unnamed sources in the Gujarat police)
painted Nasar as playing a major role in the blasts, the connection the
charge-sheet draws between Nasar and the blasts is tenuous at best. It claims
Nasar attended a terror training camp in Pakistan and handed over a CD
containing terror material to one of his co-accused, Abdulsubhan Taukir, and
was in touch with Safdar Nagori.
However, the chargesheet does not mention any witnesses as providing proof Nasar handed over the CD in question to Taukir. Nor is any documentary, circumstantial or eyewitness account mentioned to support the claim that Nasar underwent terror training in Pakistan or that he even travelled there. The CD in question has been sent to a forensic lab for analysis. Police are yet to produce the report.
“The case against Nasar is a fabrication. We are sure the courts will acquit him as the prosecution has no evidence. Nasar was one of those who complained to the Andhra Pradesh government against Amin and Barot for shooting Mujaheed Saleem in Hyderabad. I believe Gujarat police were settling scores by framing Nasar,” says Khalid Sheikh, the lawyer who represents Nasar in the blasts case.
While it was not possible to contact Nasar for this story, both Sheikh and his uncle Rafiuddin say he was tortured by both Karnataka and Gujarat police. “He told me he was made to even drink urine. He said he was given electric shocks and forced to clean shoes with his beard,” says Rafiuddin.
The chargesheet filed in the Hubli SIMI conspiracy case also rests on so-called jihadi material and police confessions, which have no evidentiary value under Indian law.
The case has dragged on for more than five years now. Though the Karnataka High Court directed that the case be heard on a day-to-day basis, the Hubli district court has failed to implement the orders.
Since many of the accused are in jail in Ahmedabad, the trial is supposed to proceed via video link. But very few hearings have happened, says Jagler, who is representing Nasar. The reason given is that the link facility in the Hubli sessions court is not working.
Maulana Naseeruddin’s health broke during his incarceration in Sabarmati
jail and he was admitted to a civil hospital. Unlike his sons, the Maulana says
he did not face harassment in jail. “Except that I was kept in solitary
confinement, I did not face any problems. I was not tortured. But the
separation from my family and imprisonment took a toll on my health as I have
only one kidney,” he says. He had donated one to a brother (not Rafiuddin).
On September 4, 2009, the Supreme Court, which rejected his bail application in 2007, granted bail. The bench of Justice Markandey Katju and Justice Asok Kumar Ganguly criticised the Gujarat government for the delay. Justice Katju said in an oral remark, “Already six years have passed without trial, and looking at his age, will you take his life and then only leave him?”
When Naseeruddin arrived at Hyderabad airport, he was greeted by a crowd of admirers from the Muslim community, who believed he was innocent. He gave several interviews to news channels and papers where he accused the Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh governments of framing him and of targeting Muslims on trumped-up terror cases. He also said his sons would be acquitted by the courts.
Returning home, he continued where he had left off. He resumed the family
business with his former partner. He resumed his duties as headmaster of a
madarsa near his house and continued to give anti-government speeches. But most
of the time, he found that his role had been reversed with his sons. It was now
he who was fighting to free them.
On January 12, 2010, the POTA court acquitted Naseeruddin of all charges. He had been charged under POTA, the IPC, and the Arms Act.
However, the chargesheet accused Naseeruddin only of provocative speeches in Hyderabad. Interestingly, police did not seek to charge him under hate speech laws. Instead, Gujarat police contended that Naseeruddin’s “fiery” public speeches had inspired young men from Hyderabad to go to Pakistan for terrorist training.
More than five years after his arrest, Gujarat police had failed to provide
visual, audio or documentary proof to support their claim that he had delivered
speeches with criminal content. The main evidence was a confessional statement
allegedly signed by Naseeruddin, which stated he was an admirer of Osama bin Laden
and the Taliban.
Under POTA, confessions made to police officers are admissible as evidence as long as the document is ratified by the accused in front of a magistrate within 48 hours. Naseeruddin denies making a confession and claims the confession as well as his signature was forged.
In the judgement, the POTA court said: “As can be seen from the record, more particularly the oral evidence of PW198 (Tarun Barot) who had been to Hyderabad to arrest A-48 (Maulana Naseeruddin) and upon perusal of his report … it becomes clear that at the time of lawful arrest of this accused, the law and order situation had worsened and the police who had gone to Hyderabad to arrest this accused had to open fire on the mob which was gathered to resist the lawful arrest of this accused. This aspect read with the aspect that the mob has attacked on [sic] the team of the Crime Branch, Ahmedabad… In [sic] the background, It [sic)]is not a matter of surprise that neither a CD nor a cassette of provoking speeches of A-48 nor any kind of oral evidence is forthcoming.”
The court also accepted the validity of the confessional statement and rejected the defence lawyer’s contention that it was not genuine.
While the court excused the police for not producing any evidence to substantiate the charges, it reasoned that it could not convict Naseeruddin solely on the confessional statement. It acquitted Naseeruddin of all the charges as police had not produced any corroborative evidence and gave him the benefit of the doubt.
Of the 44 people being tried for the crime under POTA the court acquitted
22. Twenty were sentenced to various terms in prison extending up to ten years.
Only the charge of sedition, which carries the death penalty, was rejected. All
those arrested from Hyderabad and allegedly inspired to join the conspiracy by
Naseeruddin’s speeches were acquitted.
The ISI conspiracy case tried by the POTA court had by this time been separated from the tiffin bomb case, the Surat case, and the Haren Pandya murder case, being tried by different courts.
In its judgment, the POTA court relied heavily, though not exclusively, on the confessions of the accused, given to the investigating officer.
It said: “Some of the accused through their further statement or through
their cross-examination want the Court to believe that they were not taken to
the DCP, they were not taken to court, the confession was written by the IO, as
if everyone plays fraud and forgery which is ridiculous proposition [sic]. Such
a conduct of the accused should be viewed seriously and their retraction
apparently prepared by their learned advocate should be accordingly
After his acquittal, Naseeruddin could turn his full attention to securing the release of his three sons. While bail applications for Yasir and Jaber were rejected by the Madhya Pradesh High Court and the Supreme Court, repeated deadlines for the trial handed down by the higher courts made the wheels of justice turn marginally faster.
Though the deadlines were not met, the trial in the Dhar conspiracy case finally concluded on September 13, 2012. While all their co-accused got extended terms in prison, the court acquitted Yasir and Jaber. Including the time in Hyderabad, Yasir had spent four years and two months in jail and Jabir almost exactly four years.
The Madhya Pradesh police had charged the brothers with sedition and collecting arms to wage war against the State, being members of an unlawful association (SIMI) and for funding its activities The only evidence introduced by the prosecution was a CD purportedly handed over to Safdar Nagori by Yasir and Jaber.
The forensic lab report on the CD did not reveal the existence of any seditious or jihadi material. The prosecution also did not put on record any documentary evidence that the two brothers were SIMI members after the organisation was banned. The judge dismissed all charges, saying there was no evidence to substantiate them.
At first, the Indore police said Yasir and Jaber would be handed over to the Hyderabad police, as cases of rioting were pending against them. But once their lawyer submitted that a Hyderabad court had granted bail, they were released. Towards the end of September 2012, they were back in Hyderabad after a gap of nearly four years.
Three weeks earlier, Obaid-ur-Rehman had been arrested for the Bangalore terror conspiracy and been taken to Karnataka.
When his family met Obaid in Parappana Agrahara jail in Bangalore, he told
them how he was arrested by Hyderabad police and brought to Bangalore. His
brother says Obaid did not mention physical ill-treatment at their first
meeting. The family has met him only a few times subsequently.
After the NIA took over the investigation, it dropped charges against three of the accused, including Deccan Herald journalist Muthi-ur-Rahman Siddiqui. Once released, Siddiqui made public allegations that Bangalore police tortured Obaid as well as most of the detained to extract false confessions and that the entire case was fabricated. His brother says that at their next meeting, Obaid told them he had been subjected to beatings and other forms of physical torture on many occasions.
“He did not want to upset us anymore. But after we saw on TV, what was the point?” says his brother.
On February 23 this year, twin blasts occurred in Dilsukhnagar, Hyderabad, killing 17 people and injuring an estimated 80. The police theory is that the Indian Mujahideen was responsible and that two alleged IM operatives, Syed Maqbool and Imran Khan, had done a recce of Dilsukhnagar. Both were arrested for the Pune blasts in 2012 and were in Tihar jail at the time of the blasts.
In the beginning of March, the NIA transferred Obaid to Tihar jail for joint
interrogation with Maqbool and Khan. The agency told a Delhi court it wanted to
probe whether Obaid had helped the duo plan the blasts in Hyderabad.
On July 16, NIA filed charges against Obaid-ur-Rehman and four others for being IM members. In the NIA’s chargesheet in the Bangalore case, however, Obaid is charged with being a member of LeT and HuJI.
A number of discrepancies in the case support allegations by Siddiqui and Bangalore-based human rights associations that the Bangalore terror conspiracy was manufactured by Karnataka police. Police say they arrested two of the alleged terrorists, Shoaib Mirza and Abdul Hakim Jamadar, during their attempt to assassinate Pratap Simha, a columnist for Kannada Prabha. Though Mirza had a pistol, there was no exchange of fire with the CCB team that nabbed the two motorbike-borne extremists. The NIA chargesheet and the FIR claim that when Mirza pulled out his gun, police disarmed the alleged Pakistani-trained terrorist by jumping on him.
The official version is that Jamadar and Mirza were arrested at 12.30 p.m. from Baseveshwaranagar. In less than three hours, they voluntarily confessed to membership of international terror organisations and revealed the locations of all their co-conspirators.
Acting on that information, Bangalore CCB says they arrested four others including Muthi-ur-Rahman Siddiqui at 3.30 p.m.
According to Siddiqui, however, all six, including the two allegedly apprehended during the assassination attempt, were picked up from two separate apartments in J. C. Nagar in the morning. Residents of J. C. Nagar, who saw Siddiqui and his three flat-mates being taken away by unknown men, registered a missing persons complaint at the police station. The time given was between 8.30 and 9 a.m.
Human rights organisations like the Andhra Pradesh Civil Liverties Monitoring Committee allege that both the police and the media are biased against the Muslim community and operate from a set of cultural stereotypes. The media continues to portray Naseeruddin as a jihadi idealogue
The NIA chargesheet rests heavily on confessions of the accused and mentions
very little corroborative evidence. The so-called seized jihadi materials are
photographs of RSS march-pasts and the Godhra riots and a copy of the Bollywood
film Mission Kashmir.
Even after their acquittals, Maulana Naseeruddin, Yasir, Jabir, and Mautasim Billah often appeared in media reports in connection with terror attacks. After Dilsukhnagar, English and Telugu papers reported that police were checking whether Naseeruddin was connected to the bombings.
Naseeruddin denied being contacted by the police or that he had any followers. Human rights organisations like the Andhra Pradesh Civil Liberties Monitoring Committee allege that both the police and the media are biased against the Muslim community and operate from a set of cultural stereotypes.
The media continues to portray him as a jihadi ideologue. Naseeruddin, who equates Islam with non-violence and speaking out against injustice, was not exactly helping matters. After Osama was killed by US Navy Seals last year, he conducted a public prayer meeting for the dead terrorist. By and large it did not attract the city’s Muslims.
Fountain Ink sent a detailed email to S. A. Huda, then DGP, Law and Order, and spokesperson of the Andhra Pradesh Police, asking specific questions about the alleged fabrication of cases against Naseeruddin, his family and friends, the alleged torture and illegal custody of Yasir, Jaber, and Moutasim Billah, the alleged murder of Mujahid Saleem by the Gujarat police, and allegations of communal bias in terror investigations. There was no response at the time of writing. A similar email sent to Anurag Sharma, Hyderabad city commissioner, got no response either. Gujarat DGP Amitabh Pathak, in a telephonic conversation with Fountain Ink, said he had no knowledge of Naseeruddin’s case.
Noted Supreme Court lawyer Prashant Bushan, a member of the Aam Aadmi Party who headed a people’s tribunal that inquired into false arrests of Muslim youths in the Mecca Masjid case, says communal bias in terror investigations exists on a national scale. “The fabrication of cases against Muslims in terror cases and the elimination of innocent Muslims or petty criminals in fake encounters is a pattern visible across the country.”
He says, “False Intelligence Bureau (IB) reports are used to fabricate cases or stage encounters. IB as an agency is thoroughly communalised, corrupt and venal. The police and security establishment in this country have become communalised, but in the case of IB, this has been accentuated by a complete lack of accountability. The IB enjoys enormous powers. They can tap anyone’s phones and conduct all forms of surveillance. There is no oversight mechanism and all records are kept secret. No one questions intelligence reports on terrorism.”
The Times of India Hyderabad resident editor and author Kingshuk Nag says that several incidents have revealed an unhealthy nexus between the top echelons of Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh police. “The anti-Naxal operations the AP government carried out ended up giving a lot of immunity to state police and in strengthening the intelligence department. When the Gujarat riots happened, there were reverberations in Hyderabad and not just among the populace.
“Some higher-ranking officers in the state intelligence department are communal. There has always been a tacit understanding between the Gujarat and AP police. In the Sohrabuddin Sheikh fake encounter, Sohrabuddin and his wife were arrested by Gujarat police when they were travelling from Hyderabad to Maharashtra. The CBI probed the involvement of AP police and filed charges against two officers, including IG P. Balasubramanyam. Not only has he not been suspended, but he now heads the political intelligence section of the state intelligence department.”
The Hyderabad city police website seems to lend credence to the idea of profiling through stereotypes of Islamic fundamentalism.
In a section on how to identify a terrorist, police tell citizens: “Some employee of your company suddenly transformed [sic] into a deeply religious man, works on holidays, starts quoting religious scripture in his conversations. His activities should be under scanner immediately.”
Some of the tips on how to spot a terrorist border on the absurd, but the underlying cultural assumptions are disturbing. The website cautions citizens against “someone very young, well educated, well employed harps on the words like ‘dying for God’, ‘great life in the paradise’, ‘elimination of other religions’ in formal/informal conversations, goes to religious places very regularly, prays differently, suddenly minimises contacts with friends could be a terror suspect in making [sic].”
An ADGP level officer with Hyderabad police familiar with terror investigations said communalism in the department was responsible for the false arrest of dozens of innocent Muslims following the Mecca Masjid blasts. “It is obvious that communal bias is what leads to the arrest of innocent Muslims for terror blasts,” he said. “Whenever a terror attack occurs, the security agencies start out with an overarching theory about Indian Mujahideen or LeT and then try and fit the facts into theory. We are cops and that is not how police work is done. You have to start from the facts and conduct an investigation and apprehend the culprits.”
He continues, “The security agencies keep saying Indian Mujahideen and its leaders, the Bhatkal brothers, are organising terror attacks from Karachi. How do they do it? Every time a terror module is busted, another blast soon takes place. Why? I believe they have no facts on the Bhatkal brothers or Indian Mujahideen. It is all theory. Central intelligence presence among the local community is very thin, even thinner than local police presence. If we have to develop real human intelligence and sources, there has to be a wider effort to reach out to the community.”
The official said he could not comment on the case of Maulana Naseeruddin’s family as he was not familiar with the investigation. “But it is entirely possible that it was a frame-up and that the allegations of torture are true. Terror investigations are usually handled by the CID cell or special branch. They are the dirty tricks department of the police.”
However, the official said that after the recent twin blasts in Dilsukhnagar, there has been an effort at the top level of the Hyderabad police, to prevent a witch hunt. “After the blasts, the DGP called a meeting of senior officials where these matters were discussed candidly. It was decided that steps must be taken to avoid painting an entire community as terrorists and to take the community’s concerns on board. That is why this time, though many young men were called and questioned, there have been no arbitrary arrests as happened after the Mecca Masjid blasts.”