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A New Day, A New Mastermind

Police name an Islamic scholar from Uttar Pradesh as the evil brain behind the Ahmedabad blasts, but it is unlikely they will offer clinching evidence against him anytime soon

AJIT SAHI
Azamgarh, UP

Abhinav Chaturvedi

Demoralised Mufti Qasmi's family claim he was faslely implicated Photos:Abhinav Chaturvedi

TWO MEN came to my house and said they had a charming bride to offer my second son,” recalls Maulana Abu Bakr Islahi, speaking haltingly from the debilitation of speech and body paralysis. It was August 14 and Islahi, a fiftyish madarsa teacher forced indoors by a stroke two years ago, pulled up a sagging cot to seat the visitors. They were shortly joined by his eldest son, Abul Bashar Qasmi, already a Mufti, or high-grade Islamic scholar, at the age of 23. Married less than a year ago, the Mufti was keen to bring a wife to his brother who works as a drugstore salesman in Mumbai. Within minutes, though, the two visitors with the marriage proposal were dragging the Mufti away by his arms, virtually running. A Scorpio and a Maruti van materialised hundred metres away, and a swarm of plainclothesmen shoved the Mufti in one. “In a flash,” says the father, who had limped after them, stunned and scared, “they were gone like birds flying away.

Two days later, Gujarat Police chief PC Pande named Mufti Qasmi as the mastermind behind a string of bomb blasts that had exploded in Ahmedabad within minutes of each other on July 26 and killed 55 people. (Pande is a police officer discredited several times over for his complicit role in the RSS-VHPBajrang Dal-BJP-led killings of 2,000 Muslims in Gujarat six years ago. The bulk of that violence in Ahmedabad had occurred on Pande’s watch as he then headed the city police. Among others, Pande had ignored SOS pleas from former MP Ehsan Jaffrey and allowed armed Hindutva mobs to slaughter more than 30 people, including Jaffrey, at his house. Pande was subsequently promoted.)

“We now have the entire details of how and where the plans for the Ahmedabad blasts were chalked out, who were the people involved and how the entire plan was operationalised,” a beaming Pande told a press conference on August 16, speaking on the arrest of Qasmi and of his alleged nine co-conspirators, held from Vadodara and Ahmedabad in Gujarat.

In Qasmi’s impoverished village 35 km from Azamgarh city in east Uttar Pradesh, people remember him as a shy but friendly neighbourhood guy. But police say he was a top SIMI leader and a committed jihadist sworn to avenge the Gujarat killings of 2002. Pande claimed this group had also planted the 29 bombs that were found by members of the public hanging, among others, from trees, shop shutters and bill boards in Surat city over two-to-three days after the Ahmedabad bombings. (Inexplicably, not one of the Surat bombs went off. Causing not a small strain to the laws of probablity, lone individuals had by chance discovered many bombs.) Following Mufti Qasmi’s arrest, the media rushed in to quote unnamed police sources and claim that he had travelled across India to build the terror network, trained “operatives” in Kerala and built the bombs in Gujarat by renting houses.

But where is the evidence? A day after the arrests, a familiar pattern began to emerge, identical to the fraudulent cases built by the police across India against alleged activists of Students’ Islamic Movement of India (SIMI). All that the police have is a confession Mufti Qasmi allegedly made to them after his arrest. As TEHELKA pointed out in its exposé of the false cases against SIMI, published over the last three weeks, a confession to a police officer is useless in a trial because the Indian Evidence Act binds courts to reject it as evidence, as the Indian police cannot be trusted. (Laws like the Maharashtra Control of Organised Crimes Act (MCOCA) and the now lapsed Prevention of Terrorism Act are draconian because they allow such confessions as evidence. Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi wants the Centre to approve a MCOCA-type law for his state precisely because it will allow the judges to convict the accused based just on confessions, no matter if they are subsequently denied or retracted.) As in dozens of SIMI-related arrests, the theories about Qasmi will bite the dust unless the police:

• Bring documentary proof such as the letter he allegedly wrote to a former SIMI leader, Safdar Nagori, who is in jail since March, implicating himself; tickets he purchased for his alleged terror travels; rent receipts; etc., that can be proven beyond doubt to be linked with him

• Show seizures of bomb-making and other incriminating materials from his house or other locations and prove the links with him (independent, reliable witnesses must testify to the seizures or they will be useless in the trial)

• Prove the occurences of the terror training camps in Kerala and Gujarat But going by their past record it is unlikley the police will marshal any such evidence to back their charges. Indeed, chances are that the day Mufti Qasmi and the nine others, who are currently in police custody for 14 days, are brought back to the court, they will either deny they made the alleged confessions or retract them saying they were forced to sign them.

As for the seizures, on August 16, two days after they snatched him, the police returned to the Mufti’s dilapidated home of bare bricks, broken utensils and zero
Mastermind?Police say Mufti Qasmi has admitted his role in the bombings

income. “About 30 policemen men landed at our house and threw us out,” Abu Zaid, one of Mufti’s five younger brothers, who studies at the local madarsa, told TEHELKA. Far from seeking witnesses from their village, as is legally required, the police kept everyone away at gunpoint. The Mufti’s father claims the policemen took away jewellery belonging to his daughter-in-law, who has since gone to visit her parents. He says they also took away a packet of anti-tick powder and a metal scrub from the house. “They may say these are things to make bombs to implicate my son,” he says fearfully.

Mastermind?Police say Mufti Qasmi has admitted his role in the bombings

Mastermind?Police say Mufti Qasmi has admitted his role in the bombings

MUFTI QASMI’S family and neighbours vehemently deny he was a SIMI member. Only last year, he had finished his two-year studies, akin to a post-graduation that qualified him to be a Mufti, from the reputed Islamic seminary, the Darul Uloom at Deoband in west Uttar Pradesh. The Mufti has never had a police case filed against him. In fact, the day he was taken, his family could only think that gangsters had abducted him, and headed straight for the police station to complain. Subsequently, they also faxed letters to UP Chief Minister Mayawati and the district magistrate but heard from neither.

TEHELKA’s three-month SIMI investigations had recently found that the police often implicate Muslims with no previous cases against them if they are somehow connected with Muslims who are accused in some cases. In February this year, Mufti Qasmi taught the scriptures at a madarsa in Hyderabad run by Maulana Abdul Alim Islahi, a migrant from Azamgarh and a friend of the Mufti’s family. Maulana Islahi is the father of a 22-year-old engineering dropout, Moutasim Billah, who has been implicated in many dubious cases of terrorism by the Hyderbad police. (Billah’s story was published in TEHELKA, August 16.) Mufti had lived at that madarsa only a month and returned home to tend to his paralytic father and mother, who suffers from arthritis.

The Mufti’s neighbours refuse to believe the accusations against him. They cite his credentials as an Islamic intellectual, pointing to his debut as a scholar at a national seminar in April 2006, where he was roundly feted. His brothers say that since returning from Hyderabad, Qasmi had been hunting for a job and begun to give private tuitions.

It is the neighbours who give food to the family. “Our only hope is justice from Allah,” says Abu Zaid, his voice shaking with suppressed rage. Adds his father, Abu Bakr, “Our only fault is that we are Muslims.” •
From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 5, Issue 34, Dated Aug 30, 2008

September 25, 2008 - Posted by | articles

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