Saturday, January 08, 2011

Terrorism: Samjauta Express blast - the follow up

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"According to American investigators, the LET (Lashkar-e-Toiba) and Al Qaeda were responsible for the Samjauta Express blast and the HUJI( Harkatul-Jihad-Al-Islami) for the Mecca Masjid blast (in Hyderabad). If the American investigators, who have better sources in Pakistan, are correct, how can our investigators claim that some arrested Hindus were responsible for these incidents? Justice and fairplay demand a thorough investigation into the two different versions that have emerged from Indian and American investigators. While the American investigators have blamed the LET, Al Qaeda and the HUJI, Indian investigators have blamed the Abhinav Bharat. Both cannot be correct." So I wrote in an article of August 7,2010, titled ARREST OF SOME HINDUS AS TERRORISTS: CURIOUSER & CURIOUSER at .

2.Since then, there has been a significant development in the investigation of the case relating to the explosion on the night of February 18,2007, in the Samjauta Express, a twice-weekly train service connecting Delhi and Lahore. There were 68 fatalities. While most of them were poor Pakistani nationals returning home after visiting their relatives in India, some Indian nationals were also killed. The incident took place a day before the then Pakistani Foreign Minister Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri was to arrive in New Delhi to resume peace talks, which were disrupted as a result of the explosion.

3.The case has not yet been fully investigated. The investigation was initially being handled by the Haryana Police without much progress, but was subsequently taken over by the newly-created National Investigation Agency (NIA), which came into being after the Mumbai terrorist strikes of 26/11 by the LET. According to media reports, Swami Aseemanand alias Jatin Chatterjee alias Swami Onkarnath, said to be an activist of the Rashtriya Swayam Sevak Sangh (RSS), who has been arrested and was being interrogated in police custody, has confessed to a magistrate about his role along with some other activists in the explosions at Malegaon in Maharashtra,Ajmer Sharif, a Sufi shrine in Rajasthan, the Mecca Masjid in Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh and the Samjauta Express. He is reported to have described them as acts of retaliation against Muslims triggered off by the attacks by jihadi terrorists in the Akshardam temple in Ahmedabad in 2002 and in the Sankatmochan temple in Varanasi in 2006. His confessional statement has reportedly been recorded by the Magistrate under Section 164 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) after following procedural formalities as laid down under the law to remove any effect of police pressure on him to confess. One of these formalities is to transfer him from police to magisterial custody for some time before recording his confession. Since he made the confession even after any possible police pressure on him was removed, it will be taken as a voluntary confession made without any pressure on him and with the full knowledge of the implications of his confession. This confession will remain an important piece of evidence unless subsequently, under the advice of his lawyer or on his own, he retracts from it.

4. Generally, courts do not convict a person on the basis of a confessional statement made to a magistrate unless independently corroborated by other evidence. The NIA has to collect further independent evidence---particularly about the others involved, the details of the training given, the procurement of the explosive material, the fabrication of the improvised explosive devices (IED) and their actual planting. But the significance of the voluntary confessional statement is that it will have greater credibility than the intelligence collected by the American investigators. What the Americans have collected is intelligence, which may or may not be correct. What the NIA has obtained is a confessional statement under the law by a suspect, which will be presumed to be correct unless proved otherwise by evidence adduced by the defence. The defence can still adduce the US reports blaming the LET, the HUJI and Al Qaeda to convince the trial court that it should not rely on the confessional statement, but it will be up to the court to decide on the acceptability of the confession.

5. The confession points the needle of suspicion for the first time at some extremist elements in the Hindu community supporting the Hindutva ideology for organising the explosion on the train. It cannot be brushed aside as of no value or as the result of a political conspiracy to malign the Hindutva groups. The value at present is limited till corroborative evidence is obtained, but it is an important break-through in the investigation.

6. The confession would create embarrassment both for the Indian investigating agencies and for the Hindutva groups. The investigating agencies will be embarrassed because they were initially projecting the train explosion as the work of Pakistan-inspired jihadi terrorists. The Hindutva groups will be embarrassed because the suspects who have come to notice so far in respect of all these four incidents were known supporters of the Hindutva ideology. Despite the embarrassment, the Indian investigating agencies should press ahead with the investigation till they come to a logical conclusion facilitating the prosecution of those arrested. We should not create an impression that we follow double standards----by condemning terrorism emanating from Pakistan and the Indian Muslim community and acting firmly against it and by playing down terrorism emanating from sections of the Hindu community. ( 8-1-11)

The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai.