Flights Of Fancy About 9/11 Copycat

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The arrest of Shahzad, the alleged plotter of an Indian 9/11, was touted as a breakthrough. Brijesh Pandey tracks the case in Azamgarh and Lucknow to find a story full of holes

Terror pilot? Shahzad being whisked away by the Special Cell of Delhi Police
Photo: Indian Express Archive

ON FEBRUARY 1, 2010, the Special Task Force (STF) of Uttar Pradesh Police arrested a man called Shahzad Ahmad from his home in Khalispur village in Azamgarh district. A month earlier, the media had gone into a frenzy when police and IB sources revealed that Shahzad was planning a 9/11-style attack in India.

However, now the police say Shahzad has received no pilot training in Bengaluru (or in any part of India for that matter) as was originally claimed. Brij Lal, Additional Director General of Police (Law and Order), Uttar Pradesh told TEHELKA: “Shahzad had taken some money from his family but he never underwent any pilot training.”

Shahzad first made headlines in September 2008 when his passport was recovered from the scene of the Batla House encounter in New Delhi. Police claim he was part of the Indian Mujahideen cell that allegedly fired upon and killed inspector MC Sharma of the Special Cell of Delhi Police during that encounter. Shahzad was declared an absconder and a reward of Rs 5 lakh was announced for his arrest. Just days after his capture on February 1 this year, police announced that Shahzad had confessed to shooting Sharma.

A month earlier, on January 6, Headlines Today had reported that sources in the IB had disclosed a plot by the Indian Mujahideen to replicate 9/11 in India and that Shahzad had taken training in piloting heavy aircraft. It was claimed that Shahzad was using the social networking site Orkut to communicate with one Mirza Shadab Beg, who has been accused by security agencies of masterminding virtually every blast in the country since 2005. Allegedly, Shahzad would send regular messages to Beg on Orkut about the progress of his flying course. The alleged IB sources told the media that Beg had even left his mobile number (9990858218), asking Shahzad to call him.

When TEHELKA detailed this alleged plot to a senior UP ATS official, he burst out laughing at the idea that an absconder with a reward on his head would use a heavily monitored social networking site to communicate with one of the most wanted men in India, and that too without using coded language. Drawing from their own experience, police said such open communication by members of terrorist organisations on social networking websites is simply unheard of. The chances of someone like Mirza Shadab Beg giving his number out on Orkut, they said, were next to nil.

According to the UP STF, Shahzad had been hiding at his home in Khalispur for the last four months and the arrest was the fruit of painstaking surveillance. But they did not answer one very important question: why would a terrorist with a reward of Rs 5 lakh on his head stay in his own house – the first place the police would look for him?

Outraged His grandfather says Shahzad lived with the family for five months
Photo: Vijay Pandey

According to the villagers of Khalispur, Shahzad had been living there openly for at least the last four-to-five months. Every Friday, he would pray at the mosque on the main road of the village, just metres from his house. A police station is just 8 km from Khalispur. However, for five months the police apparently had no clue that a wanted terrorist was enjoying the hospitality of his own home.

“If Shahzad was a wanted terrorist, how come the police never visited Khalispur even once looking for him?” Nazeer Ahmed, Shahzad’s grandfather, says. “If he was indeed such a big terrorist, do you really think he would be living so openly in the village, where the chances of him being spotted or someone alerting the police would be very high?”

Both alternatives — that the UP police was aware of Shahzad’s location but did nothing for months, or that it was unaware that he was living openly in his own home a few kilometres away from a police station — are a damning indictment of the way police tackle terror.

Initially, the police claimed that two boys who were killed in the Batla House encounter—Atif and Sajid—had shot Inspector Sharma before being gunned down themselves. However, a month before he was arrested, the TV report quoted alleged IB sources as saying that it was Shahzad who had killed Inspector Sharma. Unsurprisingly, soon after his arrest, Shahzad reportedly confessed to Sharma’s murder.

But if Shahzad is indeed Sharma’s murderer, how did he escape from the encounter site? Initially, the police claimed that Shahzad and Junaid (another accused) ran down the stairs, screaming that they were residents trying to escape the firing. In the confusion, they mingled with the crowd and fled the scene. However, this clearly suggests that no policeman saw them fire at Inspector Sharma. Moreover, the murder weapon, a .32 bore revolver, is yet to be recovered; other than the alleged confessional statement of Shahzad, police are yet to uncover any clinching evidence linking him to Sharma’s murder.

AND THE discrepancies do not end there. Intelligence agencies claim they have intercepted “(an email) communiqué from Shahzad alias Pappu to his mentor in the Indian Mujahideen”. This email allegedly says, “Now I know how to handle planes and am ready for the task assigned to me.” Shahzad’s family counters this, saying that Shahzad has never been called Pappu and had always been known by his own name. They claim that it is a case of mistaken identity.

A terrorist will not use a social neworking site like Orkut to talk to his handler,” says a Police Officer

ADG Brij Lal’s statement is a ray of hope for Shahzad’s family. Dr Iftekhar Alam, principal of Shibli College at Azamgarh and a close relative of Shahzad, told TEHELKA, “Was I not telling you the same thing for eight days? And after parroting the police claims that Shahzad was planning to conduct an Indian 9/11, why is the media now silent? Why don’t they take some effort to find out the truth, instead of swallowing the police version, hook line and sinker?”

It’s the same question that baffles the other residents of Azamgarh: if a man can be accused of plotting an Indian 9/11 though he cannot fly even a light aircraft — what credence do police claims of his other crimes have? Clearly, the Special Cell needs to dig deeper.

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