THE SPECIAL CELL of the Delhi Police was formed in 1986 as a counter-terrorism force. It shot into prominence in the late 1990s, claiming to have killed many terrorists and to have solved several cases. In time, some of its officers began to figure in extortion cases and dubious encounters. Says noted lawyer Prashant Bhushan: “Unfortunately, whenever the courts have found that they [the Special Cell] have been framing people by fabricating evidence, they have not suggested any action to be taken. Unless they are punished very severely by law, police officers will keep on framing innocents as terrorists.” Tellingly, over the last four months, lower courts in Delhi have acquitted nine “terrorists” arrested by the Special Cell. Four such “terrorists” were arrested after an encounter in southwest Delhi in March 2005. Police claimed they had averted a major terrorist attack on the Indian Military Academy (IMA), Dehradun. Five years later, all four men were acquitted. Brijesh Pandey profiles the four terrorists who never were.
‘It Took Time To Sink In That The Stigma Is Gone’
DILAWAR KHAN, Maulana at Imdad-ul-Uloom Madrassa
MASOOD AHMED, Imam at Baghwali Masjid
THE SIGHT of an approaching policeman is enough to send shivers down the spine of Maulana Dilawar Khan and Imam Masood Ahmed and for good reason too. Dilawar, a teacher at the Imdad-ul-Uloom Madrassa in northeast Delhi’s Welcome area, and Masood, an Imam at the Baghwali Masjid barely 200 metres away, were called to the local police station in March 2005 and then told to visit the Delhi Police Special Cell’s office at Lodhi Colony in south Delhi for routine questioning. It would be five years before either was seen in public again.
Branded as Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorists plotting a suicide attack on the Indian Military Academy in Dehradun, the duo languished in jail for five years before a Patiala House Court judgement set them free last month for want of evidence. The court also criticised the Special Cell for its lapses in investigation and for misusing its powers.
Dilawar and Masood were arrested solely on the basis of a statement by Hamid Hussain, an alleged Lashkar member, who claimed that a consignment of explosives meant for Pakistani terrorists had been kept in Dilawar’s custody. Hamid identified Masood and Dilawar and police claimed to have recovered a grenade and a Chinese pistol with 24 bullets from them.
• Both men arrested by the Special Cell for plotting a suicide attack
• Branded as Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorists planning a suicide attack on the Indian Military Academy, Dehradun
• Arrested solely on the basis of statement by alleged Lashkar terrorist Hamid Hussain
• Jailed for five years
• Court acquits them of all charges in January 2010
• Judge demolishes entire Special Cell case against both men
Dilawar recalls the questioning by the Special Cell. “I was too dazed to comprehend what was going on… all they asked me was if I knew Hamid. When I said no, I was tortured and asked the same question repeatedly. I kept on denying. I was told I would be taught a lesson I wouldn’t forget. They also forced me to sign on a blank paper.”
Masood has a similar story. “First I was asked to identify Hamid and then I was asked to explain the plot. I had no clue what to answer.”
Matters swiftly got worse. “We were paraded like animals in front of cameras. The [Special] Cell officers were jostling with each other to stand next to ‘the terrorist’ so that they could also figure prominently in the picture. They also asked me to pose for the camera,” says Dilawar. “My faith in God was tested at that moment. What did I do to deserve this?”
Deserted by friends and relatives immediately after their arrest, Dilawar and Masood patiently waited for their case to come up for trial. The judgement took a long time in coming, but when it was delivered on January 8 this year, it acquitted them of all charges and demolished the entire Special Cell case. Additional Sessions Judge Dharmesh Sharma said, “The evidence given by the prosecution does not inspire confidence,” adding that there was no evidence that Dilawar was living in the house police arrested him from. Picking further holes in the police case, Justice Sharma said Inspector [Special Cell] Ramesh Lamba, who was part of the team that allegedly raided the Welcome area and picked up Dilawar and Masood within half-an-hour of each other, “did not utter a single word about the recovery” of arms from Dilawar’s house.
“What was most surprising was the statement of Inspector Ran Singh who stated that after the arrest [of Dilawar] the Special Cell team went back to their office… [before returning to arrest Masood from almost the same spot],” adds Justice Sharma “This is in contradiction with the statement given by the Special Cell officers. It is not believable that if the police party had gone to arrest both the persons in the same locality, it opted to include Ran Singh in one and not the other.” Indicting the police further, the judge says: “It is also very doubtful that Hamid Hussain was at all involved in identifying” the accused since “his name was not mentioned anywhere in the daily [police] diary”.
Life has come a full circle for the maulana and the imam. “When I came out of jail, I felt I am in a strange world. It took time to sink in that the stigma of being branded a terrorist has gone,” says Dilawar. Masood only smiles and keeps thanking God. But their euphoria was shortlived. The very next day, some policemen visited Dilawar’s house, asking him to visit the local police station. “I can’t tell you how scared I felt. In a split second, the entire trauma of the last five years flashed before me,” says Dilawar whose lawyer, anticipating unnecessary harassment, advised him to keep away. “Despite the fact that I have been given a clean chit, the fear of being picked up again remains. I think this fear will go only with my death,” he says ruefully.
‘Career Ruined By Case Full Of Holes’
HAROON RASHID, Mechanical engineer
HAROON RASHID had no idea that his plan to go to Singapore for a job would backfire so badly. A mechanical engineer from Bihar, Haroon had quit his job at Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) in December 2004 to join Singapore based company, initially for a 22-month preparatory course. When he returned to India on May 16th, 2005 for a visit home, he was picked up by the Special Cell from the Indira Gandhi International Airport, New Delhi. He was charged with financing a conspiracy to carry out a suicide attack on the Indian Military Academy (IMA), Dehradun.
According to the Special Cell, Delhi Police, Haroon had twice remitted a total of Rs 49,000 from Singapore through Western Union Money Transfer on January 10th and 15th, 2005, to his brother Mohammad Yunis, who had subsequently passed it on to Shams, one of the three killed in an encounter in an apartment in Uttam Nagar in March 2005. Apparently, Haroon had also confessed that he used to get money from his Pakistani mentor Abdul Aziz. They also claimed to have 76 pages of e-mail transcripts from Haroon, under the pseudonym ‘Farooq’, in which he had sent coded instructions to other terrorists for future action. The police termed Haroon’s arrest as a major breakthrough.
But when Haroon Rashid’s case came up for trial, a very different picture emerged — that of abuse of power at the hands of Special Cell officers entrusted with the task of preventing terrorist attacks.
• Arrested on May 16, 2005 from Indira Gandhi International Airport on his way back from Singapore
• Charged with being the main financier of a Lashkar-e-Taiba module
• Spends five years in jail
• Court acquits him of all charges in January 2010
According to MS Khan, Haroon’s lawyer, “He was from a very poor family and hence had to take Rs 1 lakh as loan from his uncle to go to Singapore. On reaching there, when he found out that he would not need so much money, he sent Rs 49,000 back to his brother, so that part of the loan could be repaid. How was he to know that this remittance will mark him as a Lashkar financier?”
The case presented by the Special Cell fell apart in the court. Yunis denied giving any money to Shams, the slain terrorist. The police could not produce any independent evidence linking Haroon to any Lashkar operative. Even the muchtouted e-mails recovered from Haroon could not withstand the scrutiny of cross-examination.
“Inspector Kailash had deposed in the court that on 18th May, 2005, that he had cracked the password of the e-mail which Haroon had been using to contact his handler in Pakistan, and had taken the printouts on the same day,” said MS Khan, “But Inspector Badrish Dutt of the same Special Cell admitted that on May 13th , 2005 (five days before the claimed breakthrough happened), Haroon had already given him the password of his email account. Badrish deposed that Inspector Kailash was also present during the interrogation. This clearly proves that the police fabricated the email records in those five days.”
The court was scathing about Inspector Kailash’s silence and lies in the court. Even the 76 pages of printouts supposedly taken on May 13 were neither produced in the court nor attached to the chargesheet. They weren’t even mentioned in the police diary.
Haroon Rashid was acquitted by the court but if his advocate is to be believed, the fear of being picked up again remains high. And it will be quite a while, before his faith in the police is restored.
‘Who Will Return My Youth, Sir?’
IFTEKHAR MALLICK, Biotechnology student in Dehradun
THINGS ARE finally looking up for Mohammad Iftekhar Ahsan Mallick, five years after he was jailed on charges of being a Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorist plotting to carry out a suicide attack on the Indian Military Academy (IMA) in Dehradun.
Iftekhar, 26, was a secondyear biotechnology student at Dehradun’s Dolphin Institute of Biomedical & Natural Sciences when he was picked up from his house by the Special Cell of Delhi Police on March 7, 2005. At a news conference, the Special Cell claimed to have recovered a diary containing inflammatory passages from the Quran, a note that spoke of avenging the 2002 Gujarat riots and a pass to an IMA parade. Police also said Iftekhar had been in touch with the slain Pakistani terrorist Shams who had motivated him to attend Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) meetings in his native Bihar. It was said Iftekhar had been referred to as “Shahid” in Shams’ diary and that the Lashkar had sponsored his education.
Iftekhar kept pleading his innocence but to no avail. It was left to Additional Sessions Judge Dharmesh Sharma to point out the Special Cell’s lapses in investigation while acquitting Iftekhar of all charges. Justice Sharma termed it “most surprising” that Ramesh Sharma, Inspector of the Special Cell had deposed that Inspector Kailash Singhal Bisht had visited Dehradun and seized the IMA pass from Iftekhar only for Bisht — who wrote the seizure memo — to admit during cross-examination that he had never gone there at all. On being asked how he recovered the pass and wrote out the seizure memo, Bisht could offer no explanation.
• Charged with planning to attack the IMA, Dehradun
• Picked up from his house; landlord not informed
• Special Cell claim Lashkar had funded his education
• Inspectors who‘seized’ evidence against Iftekhar never visited Dehradun
Damningly, Iftekhar told the court that he had been forced by the Special Cell to write out the note about avenging Gujarat. He admitted to having written out passages from the Quran but said they were not inflammatory in any way.
Justice Sharma also found it surprising that Iftekhar’s landlord, Bhagat Ram Gulyani, was not contacted at the time of the arrest and seizure of evidence. Nor was there any other public witness.
On cross-examination, it came to light that inspectors Sanjay Dutt and Badrish Dutt, who allegedly seized Iftekhar’s diary and the note seeking vengeance, had never visited Dehradun. What’s more the Special Cell officers kept contradicting each other about the note allegedly written by Iftekhar. One inspector said it was written in Hindi while another said it was in English.
The court also said there was no independent evidence to substantiate that Iftekhar was a Lashkar member or knew any of the militants killed in the March 2005 Uttam Nagar encounter in southwest Delhi. Even the disclosure statements of the other accused did not mention Iftekhar even once. Mere possession of an IMA pass did not indicate any motive; moreover, the pass was five months old and the parade had already been held.
The ordeal has finally ended for Iftekhar. With his sister about to get married, 2010 promises to be a much better year for the former student.
But the fear of police remains ever present.