A damning inquiry report by Metropolitan Magistrate S P Tamang on the death of Ishrat Jahan, Javed Ghulam Sheikh, Zeeshan Johar, and Amjad Ali Akbarali Rana (the latter two were Pakistani nationals according to the security agencies) has claimed that the Gujarat police killed the four alleged Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorists in a fake encounter near Ahmedabad on June 15, 2004.

The report, accessed by Canary Trap, mentions the names of 21 policemen of conniving in the fake encounter for reaping personal gains. All these officers conspired to get promotions, maintain their positions, show their best work, and get appreciation from the chief minister.

The police officials mentioned in the report include then Ahmedabad Police Commissioner K R Kaushik, Joint Commissioner of Police (Crime Branch) P P Pandey, then DCP D G Vanjara (prime accused in the Sohrabudin Shaikh fake encounter case), ACP G L Singhal, ACP N K Amin, and other Crime Branch officials.

The report also alleges that Ishrat and the others were kidnapped from Mumbai on June 12, 2004, and killed on the night of June 14 by the police.

Justice Tamang has also rubbished the police’s claim that Zeeshan Johar and Amjad Rana were Pakistani nationals. But he has not offered any proof to back his claim. Interestingly, while the parents of Ishrat and Javed Sheikh have filed court petitions for a CBI inquiry in the case, nobody even claimed their bodies after the encounter in 2004 and they were buried by the state police.

The Gujarat High Court has stayed the Tamang report and even pulled up the judge for making the report public even before submitting a copy of it to the Chief Metropolitan Magistrate and the state.

Notwithstanding the reasons behind making the report public before supplying a copy to the concerned authorities, Justice Tamang’s conclusions have exposed the motives of the police officers for staging the encounter. But there are no clear answers to the question of the alleged terror links of the people who were killed.

While the Gujarat police and the state government claim that the deceased were LeT operatives, allegedly plotting to kill Chief Minister Narendra Modi, activists and NGOs have already started claiming that all of them were innocent and had no terror links.

In contrast, Home Minister P Chidambarm walked the tightrope of common sense by stating that intelligence inputs regarding activities of specific people (i.e., actions and links) cannot be solely used to kill them in cold blood.

Home Ministry affidavit

In that sense, the Gujarat police could have detained and interrogated them to get more information about LeT’s network in the state and the country. But to absolve them from the charges of carrying out terror activities is not appropriate from a security point of view.

However, what was the information or evidence based on which security officials suspected these four people?

Canary Trap has access to the Home Ministry’s affidavit – which was submitted in the Gujarat HC – that spells out the intelligence inputs regarding the terror activities of Javed Ghulam Sheikh (alias Pranesh Kumar Pillai), Zeeshan Johar (alias Janbaaz, Abdul Ghani), and Amjad Ali Akbarali Rana (alias Salim, Chandu, Babbar, Rajkumar). The affidavit was in response to the petition submitted by Ishrat’s mother, which questioned the police encounter and demanded a CBI probe in the case.

According to the affidavit, the Union government had received specific inputs in 2004 about LeT’s plan to carry out terrorist activities in various parts of the country, including Gujarat. It had inputs regarding the terror organisation’s plan to carry out assassination of some top-level national and state leaders.

The affidavit further states that LeT had inducted its cadre, including Pakistani LeT terrorists, in Gujarat for specific terrorist action. All the inputs were shared with the concerned state governments, it states.

In particular, with regard to Javed, the affidavit explains that Javed was subverted to the cause of the LeT while he was working in Dubai. He also visited Oman (March-April 2004) where he was briefed by a senior LeT operative, named Muzammil (alias Tariq), who was responsible for carrying out terror activities in hinterland areas of India.

Thereafter, it adds that Javed was in regular touch with LeT operatives to carry out terror actions in Gujarat and mentions details of his criminal background and suspicious business activities.

It further states that the Pune Police recovered documents related to the preparation of high explosive devices, electronic circuits for timed detonation, advanced code sheets for communication, and code names assigned to various targets (including political personalities) from Javed’s residence.

Terror links

Regarding the two Pakistani nationals, Zeeshan (resident of Gujaranwala) and Amjad (resident of Sargoda), the affidavit states that it was known to the security agencies that they were sent by LeT to carry out terror attacks in Gujarat and infiltrated from Pakistan Occupied Kashmir in to J&K.

It mentions that Amjad was also injured in an encounter with the J&K Police and was treated for a bullet injury in Delhi in early May 2004, while Zeeshan had procured a J&K government identity card in the name Abdul Ghani.

Clearly, as per the affidavit, the Centre had more than sufficient grounds to suspect the terror links of the three men. However, what remains is a conspicuous ambiguity about Ishrat’s alleged links with these three and/or the larger terror network.

It is clear from the petitions of Shamima Kausar (Ishrat’s mother) and M R Gopinatha Pillai (Javed’s father) that Ishrat was working as a sales girl in Javed’s business.

The Home Ministry affidavit raises several concerns regarding this claim, the principal ones among them being a lack of information in both the petitions about the nature of work that Ishrat was involved in and Javed’s business activities.

The affidavit, therefore, claims that hiring of Ishrat as a sales girl appeared to be a part of the LeT conspiracy to provide cover to Javed of being husband and wife during his movements to various parts of the country for the accomplishment of his terrorist mission.

Besides this, the affidavit also refers to a news item (An apology to Ishrat Jahan’s family) published in Jamat-ud-Dawah to claim that Ishrat was actively associated with LeT.

Politics over encounter

Based on all this, it is clear that while the details provided by the officials to support the claim that Javed, Zeeshan and Amjad had terror links can be taken into consideration, the claim that Ishrat too was an active LeT operative seems far fetched.

All that can be established based on the information that is given by the Home Ministry is that she was working with Javed. Nobody knows whether she was aware of his terror linkages or not.

The Gujarat High Court, meanwhile, has also formed a three-member committee under Additional Director General of Police Pramod Kumar to probe the killing of Ishrat and three others in 2004. The court ordered a probe on the petition of Ishrat’s mother Shamima Kausar. The committee will submit its report on or before November 30.

More details will emerge in the coming days but the political parties have already started blaming each other. The Congress party is blaming the BJP government in Gujarat of killing Muslims in fake encounters, and the latter is blaming the former of playing politics over a national security issue.

While the Gujarat government will have to initiate action against police officials involved in the staged encounter if the HC probe too finds them guilty, the Centre too has a lot to explain. The affidavit regarding the terror links of Ishrat and three others was not submitted in the Gujarat HC till August 6 this year despite it being cleared for submission on January 28, 2005.