Early one summer morning in 2006, five males gathered internal a dingy condo in the Deccan Cooperative Society in Sewri, on the japanese fringes of South Mumbai. The males busied themselves moulding a unlit, plasticky goo, its texture now not dissimilar to the Play-Doh thousands of kindergarten children would salvage been a snicker themselves with at spherical the same time. Their work became performed before lunchtime: 35 kg of ammonium-nitrate explosive gel had been packed internal stress cookers, along with detonators linked to shrimp plastic fear clocks, every residing to 6.30 pm.
“I would plug first with one procure to Churchgate, and defend the procure in the First Class compartment,” in fact a few of the males later steered the National Investigation Agency, in a classified interrogation . “I would derive down at Marine Lines save of residing, and then return to Churchgate. Next, Atif would leave with two bags, and likewise come succor to Churchgate. Abu Rashid and Sajid will clutch one procure every and defend the bags in the selected trains. Within the waste, Shahnawaz would come to Churchgate with two bags, and we’d save both of them in the trains”.
“The entire lot went as deliberate”: 209 folks had been killed, and over 700 injured, a long way bigger than on 26/11.
In a pair of weeks, the realm shall be ready to gaze The Mauritanian — director Kevin McDonald’s wrenching telling of the story of Mohamedou Ould Salahi, tortured and imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay for 14 years for crimes he did now not commit. The story of the 7/11 Five illustrates, as nothing else would possibly perchance, that this hell is closer to dwelling than we predict about.
Five years in the past, a court sentenced Kamal Sheikh, Faisal Ansari, Ehtesham Siddiqui, Naveed Khan and Asif Khan to death for their role in the bombing of Mumbai’s suburban educate system on 11 July 2006 — amongst the most savage acts of mass-casualty terrorism on this planet. Seven different conspirators had been handed down life sentences; precise one alleged perpetrator, Wahid Sheikh, became acquitted. For the so a lot of of families torn apart by in fact a few of the realm’s most lethal terrorist attacks, the regulation looked as if it could actually perchance salvage in the end brought closure.
With the exception of, there are these disquieting info: In judicial proceedings, and in classified internal documents, some being made public by Firstpost today, the National Investigations Agency, Andhra Pradesh’s élite counter-terrorism police unit OCTOPUS, and even the Maharashtra Authorities, salvage acknowledged the assault became implemented by different perpetrators.
In in all likelihood the most weird and wonderful story to ever emerge from India’s prison justice system, five harmless males would possibly perchance merely be on death row — while folks that implemented the assault, a pair of of them in jail, salvage in no blueprint been prosecuted for their crime.
The trial of the 7/11 Five became constructed spherical evidence gathered by the Mumbai Police’s Anti-Terrorism Squad in the weeks after the bombings. In essence, the ATS acknowledged the bombings had been implemented by a personnel made up of the 7/11 Five, along with Pakistani Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorists brought by Ansari through Nepal. The bombs had been assembled in a dwelling in Govandi, the ATS acknowledged; in fact a few of the Pakistanis exciting, Faisalabad resident Muhammad Ali, became killed by police in a shootout on Antop Hill.
Even when the ATS case indignant some scepticism even in 2006, most saw no reason to subject the police story. Then, in November 2007, an e mail arrived in newsrooms in the course of India, claiming responsibility for a string of bombings on behalf of an until-then unknown organisation called the Indian Mujahideen: at Varanasi in March 2006; Hyderabad in August 2007; 7/11. The e-mails solid the bombings as reprisals for anti-Muslim communal violence in India, in the mold of the 1993 attacks in Mumbai.
The Indian Mujahideen e-mails endured to come after the contemporary assault, usually internal minutes of an explosion. In one, issued after the bombings at Ahmedabad on 26 July 2008, the organisation claimed to be “raising the considerable banner of jihad against the Hindus and all folks that fight and face up to us, and here we originate our revenge with the assistance and permission of Allah — a frightening revenge of our blood, our lives and our honour that can, Insha-Allah [God-willing], stop your survival on this land”.
Adore many in the regulation-enforcement crew, the ATS had firstly save now not illustrious the Indian Mujahideen’s 7/11 claim, writing it off as a hoax. Then, in 2008, Delhi Police investigators stumbled into a firefight with Indian Mujahideen operatives hidden out at New Delhi’s Batla Dwelling — and the particular insights into the internal workings of the jihadist began to emerge.
From a one-time air-conditioning technician called Sadiq Israr Sheikh, held rapidly after the Batla Dwelling shootout, police forces during the nation would come to learn that merely about everything they belief regarding the bombings, and about 7/11, became unfriendly.
Within the summer of 2012, the NIA began what would turn out to be India’s most thoroughgoing investigation of the Indian Mujahideen, an nearly archaeological examination of the crew’s genesis and metastasis . Led by Superintendents of Police Vikas Vaibhav and Swayam Prakash Pani, the investigation focussed on the Indian Mujahideen’s high leadership, amongst them jihadists Riyaz Shahbandri and Muhammad Ahmed Siddibapa. Even when it centred on events after 2008, the investigation also sought to originate a paunchy story of the terrorist crew’s operations in the course of time.
Even supposing the NIA’s case didn’t evaluate the Mumbai educate attacks — for the explanation that case became already being prosecuted — its investigators found out compelling evidence that the 7/11 Five had nothing to attain with bombings.
“Investigation has established,” a chargesheet filed in 2013 files [3a, 3b], “that the accused Asadullah Akhtar became conscious regarding the participation of the members of his crew in the Indian Mujahideen in the blasts at Sarojini Nagar, Delhi, in 2005, Mumbai educate blasts in 2006, Gorakhpur blasts in 2007 and UP court blasts in 2007”.
“The Mumbai educate blasts (2006),” the chargesheet goes on, “had been implemented by by Indian Mujahideen operatives including but now not restricted to Sadiq Sheikh, Bada Sajid [‘Big’ Sajid, a nickname for Mohammad Sajid], Atif Ameen and Abu Rashid”.
Asadullah Akhtar’s testimony supported long-standing suspicions some explain police forces, under intense political stress to point to results, had merely framed suspects. The Delhi Police, for instance, had charged Kashmir resident Tariq Dar, along with Mohammad Rafiq Shah and Mohammad Fazli, for executing the Sarojini Nagar bombing — charges of which they had been in the end acquitted in 2017.
The Uttar Pradesh Police, in the same model, had arrested Mohammad Waliullah, a cleric at a mosque in Phulpur, on charges of getting implemented the 2006 Varanasi bombing. He became convicted for the possession of illegal weapons, but his role in the bombing became — in retrospect, unsurprisingly — in no blueprint proved.
Evidence suggesting the innocence of the 7/11 Five had, in fact, begun to mount long before the NIA began its investigation. In 2008, a classified dossier willing by Andhra Pradesh’s élite OCTOPUS — at the time, the handiest-resourced counter-terrorism police for in India — underlined startling similarities between the bombs ancient in the 7/11 attacks and these residing off by the Indian Mujahideen in prior and subsequent bombings . In all these conditions, the bomb-makers ancient a Samay-imprint mechanical clock, fitted with an additional 9-volt battery as the timer, linking it to two detonators.
Adore authors, bomb-makers salvage distinctive stylistic signatures: techniques that they know, through expertise, to be official. The Indian Mujahideen, OCTOPUS recorded, “developed delayed clock timers fully relying on continuously-ancient cheap clocks. The timer knowledgeable of the Indian Mujahideen experimented with Ajanta clocks, digital clocks and China watches. All failed [but the] Samay gaze experiment became out to be a hit”. “As a notice,” the train states, “they ancient purple/yellow/brown wires for the obvious wires and white/unlit wire for the adversarial terminal”.
First ancient in the Indian Mujahideen’s assault on Delhi’s Sarojini Nagar on 29 October 2005, the Samay circuit triggered 3 kg of the explosive pentaerythritol tetranitrate, fitted internal two stress cookers and a steel lunch box. For his or her next strike, at Varanasi on 7 March 2006, the design became identical, even though sharp-to-form PETN became substituted with commercially-available ammonium nitrate, a chemical widely ancient in mining and constructing, as smartly as in agriculture.
The Indian Mujahideen handiest once experimented with an different timer, the use of electrically-erasable programmable learn-handiest reminiscence, for 27 improvised explosive devices planted in Surat on 26 July 2008. The bombs fizzled — main the organisation to revert to Samay clocks for subsequent attacks.
For the most portion, even though, police investigators didn’t need forensic evidence to be persuaded of the reality of what had took save on 7/11. Atif Ameen had died in the Batla Dwelling shootout, while Mohammad Sajid, Abu Rashid Ahmad and Shahnawaz Alam fled to Pakistan and then to the Islamic Yelp, where they’d perchance be killed in combating.
In jail, even though, there became one man who would possibly perchance bid the reality.
The unusually intimate dialog Sadiq Israr Sheikh had with a Gujarat Police officer one afternoon in 2008 — a dialog that, even though videotaped, can not by regulation be ancient as evidence in his prison prosecution — gives us insight now not precise into what took save on 7/11, but why. His story wasn’t irregular: Born in 1975, the Indian Mujahideen grew up in Cheeta Camp, a project residing up to accommodate slum residents displaced by the constructing of the Bhabha Atomic Compare Centre. His father had equipped his five bighas of land in Azamgarh and moved to Mumbai, where he ran a little retailer.
In 1992, Sheikh claimed, his world modified. “Before the Babri Masjid became demolished,” he acknowledged, “my inclination became against Communism; I became Communist-minded. Before that I became nationalist-minded, because the locality in Bombay where I lived became a defence companies and products dwelling”.
Then, “after the Babri Masjid demolition and riots, my mentality modified and I became against my faith. And since I became upset, in 1996, I joined SIMI”. There, he recalled, “the anxiety that had taken root in my coronary heart after the Babri Masjid episode obtained nurtured”.
Stout numbers of younger Mumbai Muslims had became to the Students Islamic Motion of India spherical this time — and now not precise for the evident causes. For Sheikh, SIMI equipped an damage out from the grim realities of life in Cheeta Camp. “I ancient to recall fights, both at dwelling and open air, which stricken my folks. So I believed I must aloof derive into the firm of tremendous folks.” “I could perchance also salvage also joined the Jama’at,” he ruminated, regarding the pietist Tablighi Jama’at checklist, “but these folks turn out to be total mullahs — they’re now not angry regarding the realm”.
Even supposing Sheikh in no blueprint earned a excessive-college level, falling by the wayside of the Saboo Siddiqui College in Byculla, he did reach constructing some foundations for all times. In 2000, having obtained an air-conditioning qualification from a technical institute in Dongri, he apprenticed with Godrej, doing smartly sufficient to be equipped paunchy-time job. Much less than a year later, even though, the Godrej plant moved to Mohali, in Punjab, and Sheikh chanced on himself at a free cease.
Intelligence Bureau interrogators salvage — in a classified train that is inadmissible for prison proceedings — recorded the story of what took save next . The Sheikh family obtained a visit from a Hyderabad-essentially based relative, Mujahid Salim Azmi — the son of a prominent cleric, later killed in a controversial stumble upon by the Gujarat Police. The two males chanced on odd floor in their madden against anti-Muslim communalism in India, and their shared belief that jihadism became the crew’s salvation.
Following these conversations, Salim equipped Sheikh to Asif Raza Khan, a ganglord-became-jihadist who became then in the system of constructing what would grow into the Indian Mujahideen. Asif Reza Khan, in turn, arranged for Sheikh to soar to Karachi in February 2001, armed with counterfeit commute documents. He acknowledged he obtained coaching at the Lashkar-e-Taiba’s Umm-ul-Qura camp, reach Muzaffarabad in Pakistan occupied Kashmir, and then took an evolved route at a camp in Bahawalpur.
In 2002, in keeping with Sheikh’s testimony, he participated in his first terrorist action — an assault on the US consulate in Kolkata, implemented to avenge the killing of Asif Raza Khan in a shootout with police.
Later that year, Amir Raza Khan, the brother of Asif Raza Khan, equipped him a job in Dubai. His co-workers integrated Riyaz Shahbandri, a friend from the SIMI meetings he attended in 1996, who would plug on to turn out to be the Indian Mujahideen’s boss.
From September 2004, the crew began its war: Doubtlessly the most a hit urban terrorism advertising campaign ever conducted by a terrorist crew in India. For the following four years, Indian police forces and intelligence groups chased the shadows of the perpetrators — every time discovering themselves at lifeless-ends.
Evidence on Sadiq Sheikh’s role in 7/11 began to continuously appear in courts during the nation by stupid 2008, as explain police forces’ investigations into the Indian Mujahideen moved ahead to prosecution. In a dispute to the Delhi Police’s Special Cell on 20 November 2008, for instance, Sheikh acknowledged he and Atif Ameen had “willing the bombs which had been kept in three local trains in Mumbai in 2006” . “I had kept bombs at Rly [Railway] save of residing, Churchgate, Mumbai, on baggage provider [sic., throughout]. Atif went to Mangalore and brought the explosives from Riyaz Bhatkal.”
Regulation-enforcement officers during the nation began to position a matter to questions about key parts of the ATS’ 7/11 investigation — even questioning whether or now not the Govandi chawl it had identified as a bomb-manufacturing facility in fact had sufficient dwelling to assemble the seven explosive devices.
Ragged Director-Total of Police Rakesh Maria, then main the investigation into the Indian Mujahideen attacks by Mumbai’s Crime Branch, recorded a confessional dispute from Sheikh, detailing his role in the 7/11 bombings . A second, supporting confessional dispute became obtained from his associate, Arif Badruddin Sheikh .
The Crime Branch rapidly chanced on its work wasn’t welcome. The payment-sheet it filed indicting Sheikh, before 7/11 particular take YD Shinde, remains unopened bigger than a decade on. The explanations for this explain of being inactive are nowhere recorded in writing, but aren’t sharp to guess: Neither then-chief ministers Vilasrao Deshmukh nor Ashok Chavan would salvage welcomed politically-adversarial charges the police would possibly perchance merely salvage framed harmless males. Dwelling Minister P Chidambaram did now not even answer to letters from the accused pointing to the inconsistencies and searching for a new investigation.
For its portion, ATS replied by claiming Sheikh had “fabricated his testimony” to exonerate the 7/11 Five — a mystifying proposition, since it could actually perchance involve implicating himself and others in custody for the sake of males he had in no blueprint met.
At the same time as the 7/11 trial went on, Maharashtra prosecutors began submitting bureaucracy in different terrorism-connected conditions intelligent the Indian Mujahideen for its serial bombing advertising campaign. In 2009, Extra Chief Secretary Chitkala Zutshi — then maintaining payment of the Dwelling Division — granted permission to prosecute 2011 bombing accused Afzal Usmani under the Maharashtra Attach a watch on of Organised Crime Act, pointing to the Indian Mujahideen role in extra than one attacks targeting Mumbai and different cities . Ragged metropolis police chief Hasan Ghafoor, in the same model, granted sanction for Usmani’s prosecution .
These sanctions named Sadiq Israr Sheikh as a member of the Indian Mujahideen’s apprehension advertising campaign, urging the courts, as it had been, to explain all he had acknowledged regarding the crew became factual — with the one, single exception of 7/11.
The Bombay Excessive Court docket is scheduled to hear the appeals of the 2 members of the 7/11 Five who salvage filed appeals against their conviction. Three others salvage yet to file appeals. The testimony of the many NIA and police officials who concluded that the 7/11 convicts had nothing to attain with the bombings would possibly perchance, clearly, salvage a severe touching on the case — but this is in a position to perchance merely clutch political will to open the gates for the entire reality to learn.
In April 2013, Sheikh appeared before the 7/11 court, summoned by the defence to bid his story. He denied engaging the perpetrators, and claimed he had been tortured by the Crime Branch into confessing his role in the bombings. “The story that you issue became given by the Crime Branch,” a defence attorney steered to him, “became now not in fact a story but the accurate plan regarding the 7/11 railway blasts”.
He did now not lie: “I attain now not prefer to answer to this save a matter to” .
Five years after the 7/11 convictions, it’s time someone does.