Police claim scribe Syed Ahmed Kazmi is the local hand involved in the Israeli Embassy car blast. But nobody is buying that argument. Abhishek Bhalla and G Vishnu report
ON 13 FEBRUARY, Syed Ahmed Kazmi was sitting in television news studios as an expert on Iran soon after the bombing of the car carrying the Israel Defence Attaché’s wife in New Delhi. Kazmi, who had widely reported on West Asia, fearlessly spoke his mind, rubbishing Israel’s claim that the attack was masterminded by Iran.
A month later, the 53-year-old Urdu journalist is in police custody, accused of being part of the conspiracy to carry out the bombing. Investigators believe that an Iran-based radical group hatched the conspiracy and Kazmi provided them local assistance. While the Delhi Police admit the real culprits have fled India, their claim that Kazmi is a crucial link has raised serious questions on the manner in which the probe is being carried out.
After scrutinising court documents and speaking to Kazmi’s family, colleagues and even some officials, TEHELKA has found that there is little evidence to implicate him. The arrest appears to be a knee-jerk reaction since the matter has far-reaching diplomatic consequences. It has also shocked the media fraternity, who believe that Kazmi’s arrest for having been in touch with Iranians sets a bad precedent as speaking to all kinds of people in society is part of journalism.
Senior journalist Seema Mustafa, who was recently part of the delegation that travelled to Syria along with Kazmi, questions the government’s intentions. “Kazmi has taken positions on Israel. Soon after the blast, Israel said Iran was behind it. But the Indian government said Israel is wrong. So when did that position change? At what time did they decide Iran is involved?” she asks. “And just because Kazmi is the best-known face in India with an Iran connection, he was picked up.”
The police’s claim of Kazmi being part of the conspiracy is on the basis of his call records that indicate he was in touch with some ‘suspicious’ people from Iran. The police claim that certain seizures made from his home are also crucial. These include a TVS Scooty and a Maruti Alto allegedly used for the reconnaissance. The police allege that the Scooty was used by the bombers for recce and then dumped at Kazmi’s house in BK Dutt Colony, near the upmarket Jor Bagh in south Delhi.
However, Kazmi’s family claims that the Scooty has been parked at their house for the past two years, unused. “The Scooty belongs to my uncle who lives in Meerut. He bought it when he was in Delhi a couple of years ago for treatment at AIIMS. Since then, it has never been used,” says Kazmi’s elder son Shauzab, 23, an MBA graduate.
“It appears there is no strong evidence against Kazmi till now. Why would anyone continue to keep a motorbike that was used in a terror recce? It’s a far-fetched theory,” asks defence counsel ND Pancholi.
According to the remand application filed by the Delhi Police, Kazmi was in touch with the bombers prior to the attack and his questioning is crucial in order to unravel the larger conspiracy. The police stated in court that the bombers were from another country and in all probability have fled India but Kazmi could be vital in providing further leads. Although the police have not named any country, sources say the bombers were from Iran. According to investigators, Kazmi helped them carry out a recce of the target area.
BUT PANCHOLI is sceptical about the Special Cell probing a case that has international ramifications. “It is claimed by the Special Cell that a big international terror network can be busted through Kazmi. If that is true, the case should be handed over to the NIA or the CBI. The Special Cell is known for fabricating evidence,” he says.
Originally from Dholri village in Meerut, Uttar Pradesh, Kazmi had been living in Delhi for almost 20 years now. He took up journalism in 1988 and had been reporting on Iran for the past few years. He was accredited with the Press Information Bureau with a security clearance from the Union home ministry and has even travelled with the prime minister to cover official visits of foreign nations.
Kazmi joined the All India Radio in 1988 as a technical operator and former colleagues say he worked hard to get into the content side of news media. He established his own agency, Mediastar, in 1990. Three years later, he joined Doordarshan’s Urdu channel as a newscaster.
“My father was always in search of the truth,” says Kazmi’s younger son, Turab, 18. For the past one week, Turab’s world has gone haywire. He was studying for his Class XII board exams when the Special Cell officers came knocking on the night of 6 March. Sitting in the study on the ground floor of their double-storeyed residence, Turab recounts that eventful night with meticulous detail.
“Eight men in plainclothes entered our house. When I asked them who they were, they said nothing. They entered my room and started examining my study material. Later, they took my computer,” says Turab.
Kazmi’s nephew Najaf, who was also present in the house during the arrest, is livid. “One of the officers casually told us that they were going to slap 120(B),” he says. “Since none of us are lawyers, we believed him when he told us that it was related to destruction and vandalism (120(B) relates to criminal conspiracy.) They warned us not to inform the media. One of them said, ‘Be thankful that we have informed you. We could have ensured his disappearance for three months.”
ACCORDING TO his family, Kazmi was frugal beyond belief. “He never used to indulge in luxuries. Even his cell phone was second-hand,” says Turab. A voracious reader, Kazmi used to read extensively in Urdu as well as English. Ironically, Turab remembers that a while ago he had seen his father reading My Days in Prison, by another journalist Iftikhar Gilani who was jailed for six months under false charges.
Shauzab and Turab are by now used to narrating details to journalists about their father’s arrest. They have prepared a set of arguments that question the police’s assessment. They have also collated pictures of their father with prominent dignitaries, including Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, former PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee and former Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi.
Turab is ensuring that he uses all possible methods to publicise the “injustice”, including two Facebook pages. However, other members of the family are distraught and desperate for help. Kazmi’s wife Jahan Ara’s best hope for now remains to pray as many times as possible.
‘Kazmi was picked up because he is the best-known face with an Iran connection,’ says Seema Mustafa
Journalists who have come out in support of Kazmi are unwilling to buy the argument that his call details suggest he was in touch with radical groups and hence he has a role to play in the attack. “Kazmi worked for IRNA, the Iranian news agency. After the attack, Israel blamed Iran and obviously there was a lot of interest in the story in that part of the world. He has extensive contacts there who he could be in touch with,” says senior journalist Sukumar Muralidharan.
Those who have known Kazmi for long and have followed his work say he was an authority on West Asia. “He was an asset in that part of the world since he knew Persian and Arabic. With his linguistic skills, he had made contacts there and understood the dynamics of the region very well,” says senior journalist Saeed Naqvi.
Kazmi’s work in West Asia has been well- recognised. He was one of the few journalists from India who covered the war in Iraq in 2003 for Saeed Naqvi’s Worldview India on Doordarshan. He was assigned to cover Iran and Kurdistan as part of a special show for Doordarshan. He went to Syria as part of a delegation 10 days after the blast in Delhi. Contrary to the worldview, Kazmi wrote a column in an Urdu daily on how Syrian President Bashar Assad still enjoys mass support. In an earlier column, he wrote about how people from trouble-hit areas were calling news channels like Al Jazeera that were showing disturbing footage of violence, saying they were actually safe there.
‘He is passionate about the Palestine issue but he is an honourable, honest and a religious man,’ says Saeed Naqvi
Some journalists feel that international pressure must have actually led to Kazmi’s arrest. “He has his biases and strong opinions about some of the issues affecting the Muslim world. He is very passionate about the Palestine issue and was anti-Israel in his writing, but he is an honourable, honest and a deeply religious man. He has hardly showed any signs of jingoism,” says Naqvi.
Although there is no official word, it is believed that Israeli agencies had passed on certain inputs to their Indian counterparts that was passed on to Delhi Police. “There was a phone number of a suspect given by Central agencies to us. It was immediately put on surveillance. It was not Kazmi’s. He was in constant touch with the suspect but we were unable to zero down on it,” says a source. TEHELKA has also learnt from reliable sources that officials from Mossad, the Israeli intelligence agency, are closely following the interrogation of Kazmi and are expected to participate in the process.
Although the police have announced that Kazmi was part of the conspiracy, they are yet to ascertain how much knowledge he had of it. “We are still not sure how much he knew. Through call details, we have established that he was in touch with the suspects. But that’s not enough to investigate his role,” says an officer who is part of the probe. The police say that Kazmi was being paid to work for Iranian groups but there is no evidence to establish this. All that the police have recovered is $1,254. Since Kazmi frequently travelled abroad, this amount could have very well been from one of his foreign trips.
However, solidarity for Kazmi’s release is not restricted to journalists. The Indian Embassy has received an appeal in Oman by concerned Indians demanding Kazmi’s release. A UK human rights group is in touch with the family. In Moradabad, a crowd of 5,000 people held a protest rally demanding Kazmi’s release.
Abhishek Bhalla is a Senior Special Correspondent with Tehelka.
G Vishnu is a Correspondent with Tehelka.com.