Saturday, 1 December 2007

The Usual Suspects: ISI activities in Hyderabad

Published in The Asian Age/Deccan Chronicle August 2007
By Syed Akbar
Hyderabad: Though the city has on and oft been the target of terror attacks in the last few years, the police has not been able to lock up any of the real villains so far.
Instead, after every attack, top police officers recount the names of old suspects and round up some people. But the courts let them off since the police is not able to pin anything concrete on them. The ritual continues without respite.
Before April 2000, the police used to link every violent incident that smacked of terrorism with suspected ISI agent Azam Ghori. For the next five years they tried to pin every such incident on Muslim Defence Force leader Abdul Bari.
And the latest bad man in their list is Muhammad Shahed, alias Bilal, a college dropout who is being accused of masterminding the Mecca Masjid blast and the twin blasts of last Saturday.
The police closed the "history sheet" of Ghori after he was killed in an encounter in April 2000. After Shahed came up, they abruptly stopped linking Bari with terror strikes.
Except for the shooting down of Ghori and half a dozen ISI suspects in the last one decade, the police has not succeeded in proving the charge of terror against any of those who were arrested after each incident.
The usual result is another round of terror activity, death and destruction. Then the police names the usual suspects. The vicious circle continues.
The police came out with the name of Shahed soon after the Mecca Masjid blast but failed to document the charges against him. Dozens of Muslim youth from the Old City of Hyderabad have been kept in custody for more than 100 days but the police is yet to chargesheet them.
Ironically, none of the suspects of the Mecca Masjid blast has been charged with the actual blast at the masjid.
Shoeb Jagirdar and Shaikh Nayeem, alias Sameer of Maharashtra, were taken into custody for their alleged involvement in the blast but the police could only frame fake passport cases against them.
A cursory glance at old cases shows that the majority of those arrested under terror charges have been acquitted. Even those behind bars were convicted only of murder and extortion.
All those arrested by the police over terror attacks on the AP Express, at the Humayunnagar and Abids police stations and the Secunderabad railway station walked free.
Only Dr Jalees Shakil Ansari was convicted, but that was in connection with the 1993 Mumbai bomb blasts case.
As usual, within an hour of the twin bomb blasts on August 25, senior police officers started naming Shahed. They also named outfits like Harkat-ul Mujahideen, Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islamic, Jaish-e-Mohammed, Lashker-e-Tayyaba and the Students̢۪ Islamic Movement of India.
The hurry with which the police named the culprits even before starting the probe irked many. Several Muslim and human rights organisations accused the police of acting with "preconceived notions" against the principal minority community.
The fact remains that the police has no concrete evidence to nail any of the operatives of these organisations.
Tardy investigations are to blame. The Andhra Pradesh high court had rapped the Criminal Investigation Department for booking "ISI cases" against some Muslim youth without substantial evidence. The youth were let off but not before their images were tarnished.
The Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen has accused the police of harassing local Muslim youth after weaving stories about their links with terrorists. "Let the police arrest the real ISI activists instead of going after local youth just because they happen to be Muslims," said Hyderabad MP Asaduddin Owaisi.
Muslim elders also accused many senior police officers of subscribing to the Hindutva ideology, which they said prejudiced them. "The police should not act with preconceived notions," said senior Muslim cleric Maulana Khalid Saifullah Rahmani. "They should be open to all angles. Jumping to conclusions without even beginning the investigation will send the wrong signals and create a communal wedge between Muslims and Hindus."
Shahed̢۪s father, Mr Abdul Wahed, says he is afraid that his son could be killed any time. "We have asked the police to produce him before the court," he said.
However, police officers say they are not targeting any community. "We round up suspects and zero in on the culprits," said Hyderabad police commissioner Balwinder Singh. "In the process some innocent people may also have been taken into custody. We let off the innocent persons."
But human rights activists do not buy this argument. Says Prof. S.A.R. Geelani of Delhi University, "If the police are really open-minded, they will look for clues from terror groups and not from Muslim organisations alone," he said.
He added that the police and other premier investigating agencies were infested with officers with RSS leanings. "They never think of the Bajrang Dal, RSS and VHP as possible suspects in any attack," he says.
Though the police handed over the Mecca Masjid case to the CBI, it is still handling the case of the unexploded bomb. MIM and other Muslim organisations allege that the police is keeping the case only to harass Muslims youth.

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