This Article is From Jul 03, 2013

Gujarat encounters: a dangerous nexus

Ahmedabad: The killings took place, as they always did, in the early hours of June 15, 2004. The police would say in their FIR that they chased a car with four terrorists and gunned all of them down:

Ishrat Jahan, a 19-year-old girl from Mumbra in Maharashtra, Javed Shekh from Pune, who was travelling with Ishrat, Zeeshan Johar which the Gujarat police FIR says was from Gujranwala, Punjab, Pakistan, and Amjad Ali.

The Gujarat police FIR quotes an intelligence input, that they had come to Gujarat to kill Narendra Modi, L K Advani, and Pravin Togadia. But the CBI  says they have enough evidence to suggest that the accused were being moved into position like chess pieces months in advance by the Intelligence Bureau, more specifically by Rajinder Kumar, its station head in Gujarat.

The core of the CBI's evidence has come from mid- to lower-level Gujarat policemen, 22 in all, who have become crucial witnesses for the CBI. Several of them have given testimonies before a magistrate.

They have testified that the man known as Zeeshan came in early on April 27, 2004 - 48 days before the encounter - and was kept under watch in a safe house in Ahmedabad's Gota Circle area.

Amjad was driven to Ahmedabad by Javed and picked up on May 27, and kept at Arham farms on the outskirts of Ahmedabad.

Javed and Ishrat drove from Nasik and were picked up by the police on a check post in Vasad near Anand, on June 11 and taken to Khodiyar Farms.

On the morning of June 15, all the four were driven to the Kotarpur waterworks road and gunned down.

The Intelligence Bureau in its defense of Rajinder Kumar is not willing to accept that this was a covert operation. They claimed that they just provided the input and they cannot be held responsible for the killings. But the CBI claims they have evidence to suggest Kumar went far beyond the role of an IB official.

Two police officials have testified that Rajinder Kumar supplied the AK 47, 9mm pistol and bullets found at the encounter.

Others have testified that Rajinder was seen questioning Ishrat, Javed and Amjad.

The CBI also has a testimony which not just implicates Rajinder Kumar, but points to the possibility that Gujarat's top leadership knew of the killings.

On June 13, Rajinder Kumar along with DG Vanzara and PP Pandey of Ahmedabad Crime Branch discussed the Ishrat case.

Rajinder Kumar asked Vanzara and Pandey what should be done with Ishrat and others who were in their custody at that time.

On June 14,  Vanzara tells a colleague that he has the go-ahead from the 'white beard' and the 'black beard'.

CBI sources say that this is the code language among the Gujarat cops for Chief Minister Narendra Modi and the then Home Minister Amit Shah. Matching these dates are the call records with the CBI which show the calls made to both senior politicians.

On the day he claims he got the go-ahead, Vanzara called Mr Modi's residence at 2:49 pm in the afternoon.

Call records also show Vanzara spoke to Mr Shah at 10:57pm, five hours before the encounter.

While the CBI is still on the fringes of unearthing the role of Gujarat's ruling regime, they say they have evidence to book Rajinder Kumar for murder and conspiracy. But despite this, they are yet to arrest him, an indication of the pressure they face.  There are now even doubts if the CBI will name him in their chargesheet of next week, and instead wait until he retires a month later.

Stung by the attack on one of their officers, the IB has hit back by alleging that all the four killed were terrorists.

On Amjad and Zeeshan, claimed to be Pakistanis, all the sources NDTV spoke to in Gujarat police or CBI could not tell us who they were, except that in Amjad's case, a police official who interrogated him admitted that they had come not to kill Modi, but for other attacks.

But the case of Javed is increasingly mysterious, with evidence suggesting an enmeshed equation with the IB itself.

Javed, who converted to Islam to marry his wife Sajida, was working in Dubai for a state-run electricity company, where his wife, he said,  saw videos of the Gujarat riots.

Back in Pune, Javed dabbled in sending migrant workers to Dubai. But in the year or so before his encounter, his work and travels became unclear, even to his own wife.

About a month before the encounter , Javed employed Ishrat  which her mother says was to work in his perfume business.

However, there is no proof that he had a perfume business. So how did he get embroiled in an IB operation? Call details in the possession of the CBI suggest Javed may have been in touch with the IB, which completely undermines his description as an LeT operative.

On June 6, as Javed began his fatal journey to Ahmedabad,  a PCO from Gandhinagar calls Rajinder Kumar's mobile number AT 11:14 pm.

Four minutes later, at 11:18 pm the PCO calls Javed.

And at 11:28 pm, the PCO calls Kumar again.

With Javed's identity far from clear, to accuse Ishrat of being a terrorist is even more suspect.

Ishrat , who comes from a family of seven in Mumbai's Mumbra region, was a diligent student, who attended the city's well-known Guru Nanak College.

She met Javed only two months before the encounter. Her family's impoverished status might have led to the unusual circumstance of travelling with Javed.

So, was Ishrat in the wrong place at the wrong time? Gujarat police sources have told the CBI that she was killed because of the risk she posed as a witness.

But soon afterwards, she was quickly branded a suicide bomber.

The only basis of this still remains a claim by the LeT on its website shortly after the encounter, the original of which has yet to be seen.

And which the LeT later retracted.

Then there is the alleged testimony of David Headley to the CIA, who mentions that Ishrat was recruited by Pakistan-based jihadist boss Muzzamil.

But repeated attempts by Ishrat's lawyers and the CBI to  get the IB to share the Headley statement has been stonewalled.

But the court has asked the CBI not to probe the antecedents of those shot dead. Only whether the encounter was genuine or whether they were killed in cold blood.