events that led up to the controversial June 2004 shootout in
Four weeks after
Ishrat Jahan Raza was shot dead by Gujarat police commandos, the
Lashkar-e-Taiba proclaimed her a martyr. In an article posted on its
website soon after the June 2004 encounter, the organisation
expressed anger that “the Lashkar activist’s veil was removed by the
Indian police.” Three years later, after Ishrat’s family moved the
Gujarat High Court, the Lashkar changed tack: the article was a
Few believed the
retraction — until last month, when Ahmedabad Metropolitan
Magistrate K.S. Tamang determined that Javed Sheikh, his associate
Ishrat and Pakistani nationals Zeeshan Johar and Amjad Ali Rana were
innocents kidnapped and murdered by the police. Early next month,
the Supreme Court is scheduled to hear a plea that the High Court
erred in staying Mr. Tamang’s report. The Gujarat police
investigators are separately examining whether the killings were an
extrajudicial execution. They will traverse a trail of muddy
evidence of how, and if, the four met — and drove, or were driven,
to their death.
Pillai at Thamarakulam village in Kerala’s Alappuzha district,
Sheikh met and fell in love with Sajida Sheikh in 1986. He converted
to Islam in an unsuccessful effort to overcome her family’s
resistance to their relationship. In September 1995, the two married
and moved to Mumbai’s Mumbra area, but shifted soon to Pune after a
business dispute turned violent. Sheikh’s life continued to be
turbulent: the police filed four rioting cases against him in 1997
In 2003, Sheikh left
for Dubai, securing a job on a forged Indian Technical Institute
certificate. He returned, according to Sajida Sheikh’s testimony,
embittered by videotapes he had seen of anti-Muslim violence during
the previous year’s pogrom in Gujarat.
On March 29, 2004,
Sheikh flew to Oman on Passport E6624023, issued in the name of
Praneshkumar M. Gopinath Pillai on September 16, 2003. The police
later found that the passport was obtained illegally; Sheikh
suppressed the fact that he had held another passport, S514800,
issued on June 28, 1994 to Mohammad Javed Ghulam Sheikh. Sheikh flew
back to Mumbai from Muscat on April 11, 2004 — carrying, says Sajida,
Rs. 2.5 lakh in cash. On May 22, 2004, Sheikh paid cash for a
second-hand Tata Indica. A friend, Fayyaz Mehboob Khan, signed the
purchase papers since Sheikh didn’t have an income-tax
Earlier, on May 1,
2004, Mumbai college student Ishrat and her mother, Shamima Kausar,
met Sheikh at the Taloja Hotel in Mumbra — the first known contact
between Ishrat and Sheikh. A common friend, Mohammad Rafiq, says
Sheikh told Ms Kausar that he needed a salesgirl for a new perfume
store. There is no evidence that Sheikh ran a perfume business. Nor
is there evidence, though, that Ishrat was linked to the Lashkar.
The staff at the
Mezban Hotel in Lucknow claim that Sheikh and Ishrat, using the
pseudonyms Abdul Rahim and Ishrat Ayesha, shared room 204 on four
days in May 2004. Mohammad Wasi, a resident of Ibrahimpur in
Faizabad, says the visitors tried to buy weapons from local mafioso
Javed Khan. Sheikh, he claimed, said the weapons were needed for the
self-defence of Muslims. Dubai-based Ibrahimpur resident Mohammad
Mehraj, who allegedly brokered the meeting, has not been located.
On May 30, 2004,
Sheikh drove his wife and children to the family home in Alappuzha
in car — his last visit. From June 6 to June 9, the family stayed at
Sajida Sheikh’s family home in Ahmednagar. Hotel staff at the Tulsi
Guest House in Bardoli, on National Highway 6 outside of Surat, said
Sheikh and Ishrat checked in after 2 a.m. on June 12, 2004. On June
14, their car developed mechanical trouble. The staff at the Shakti
Motor Garage outside Ahmedabad told the police that Sheikh paid Rs.
1,025 for repairs. Hours later, all four occupants of the car were
For reasons that
aren’t clear, the one Indian national who could help establish if
Sheikh was in fact recruited by the Lashkar in Dubai has never been
fully investigated. Mohammad Abdul Razzak, held by the Delhi police
in August 2005, told investigators he had sent Sheikh to jihad
training camps run by the Lashkar military chief Muzammil Bhat —
architect of the November 2008 attack on Mumbai.
Son of veteran
Jamaat-e-Islami activist Mohammad Abdul Sattar, Razzak joined the
Jamaat-e-Islami’s student wing. As a 19-year-old, after the 1993
communal riots in Hyderabad, he participated in self-defence camps
organised by the right-wing Darsgah Jihad-o-Shahadat. Late that
year, Razzak is said to have told investigators that he met with
Mohammad Azam Ghauri, one of the co-founders of the Lashkar’s Indian
Inspired, Razzak spent
seven months of 1998 training with the Harkat ul-Mujahideen and the
Lashkar in Jammu and Kashmir. In January 2000, he travelled to the
United Arab Emirates and made contact with the local Lashkar office.
Helped by his Lashkar contacts, Razzak allegedly travelled to Lahore
on a fake passport. He first trained at a Lashkar facility at
Bahawalpur and was then despatched to a camp near Muzaffarabad.
Early in 2002, after a
stint running supplies from Kasmani to Taliban insurgents in
Afghanistan, Razzak went back to Dubai. During his interrogation by
the Delhi Police, Razzak named 10 Dubai-based Indian volunteers he
had sent to Lashkar camps. Javed Sheikh’s name was on the list.
It wasn’t until early
in the summer of 2004 that Sheikh’s name showed up on the radar of
India’s intelligence services. First Information Report 8 of 2004,
filed by the Ahmedabad Police Crime Branch after the shootout,
records that the authorities knew of the imminent arrival of
Sheikh’s blue Tata Indica, down to its licence-plate number, MH02
JA4786. The police in Jammu and Kashmir set off the chain of events
that led to their Ahmedabad counterparts receiving the information.
Between June 25 and
June 28, 2004 — just days after the shootout in Ahmedabad — the J&K
police arrested 18 Lashkar operatives, including division commander
In February 2004, the
J&K police had shot dead Poonch-based Lashkar terrorist Ehsan Illahi.
On his body, they found a letter written by Haji Sadiq Ahmad, a
Jammu resident held in connection with the Lashkar-facilitated death
of the former Gujarat Home Minister Haren Pandya, assassinated in
reprisal for his role in the 2002 killings. The letter identified an
Ahmedabad-based lawyer as a sympathiser, and asked for funds to be
made available for Ahmad’s defence.
Intelligence Bureau-led surveillance operation that followed, the
sources said, investigators stumbled on the Lashkar’s efforts to use
Sheikh to target Gujarat. The lawyer was used to lure Sheikh to
Ahmedabad. On the morning of June 11, Sajida Sheikh said, her
husband called to say he had to go to Mumbai on unexpected work, and
would return in a day.
As Sheikh did not
arrive on June 13, she called — only to receive messages that his
cellphone was out of network reach. Sheikh’s SIM card was later
found in the boot of his car — evidence, in Mr. Tamang’s view, that
he was kidnapped by the police some time after June 12 and killed.
investigators insist that the cellphone was likely disabled after
Sheikh met Johar and Rana — though they have been unable to
establish just when and where the group finally joined up.
Four men who may be
able to help answer the question are fugitives.
Majid Husain Qadri,
Pervez Ahmad Khan, both residents of Srinagar; and Drugmulla
resident Abdul Aziz Shah were held along with other Lashkar
operatives arrested in June 2004. Investigators say the three men
provided emergency aid to Rana, who was shot while crossing the Line
of Control. But when the Gujarat police sought their custody, the
charges against them were dropped and the men released.
The Gujarat police
made several attempts to arrest the men — the last attempt was just
three months ago. Each time, their J&K counterparts said the
suspects could not be traced.
Investigators say the
three men had Johar treated in New Delhi, at the City Clinic in
Paharganj. Siddharth Sahai, who performed surgery on Rana,
identified him when the police showed him photographs.
They also say Rana
probably carried the satellite phone, assault rifle and explosives
found in the car from J&K to Gujarat. Mohammad Iqbal, a Poonch
resident alleged by the police to have been working for Masood,
later said he escorted Johar to the Jammu railway station.
But there is no hard
information on exactly when Johar and Rana met with Sheikh and
Ishrat. Filling in this gap — and many others — could help to
resolve the questions on just what happened in the weeks, days and
hours before Sheikh and Ishrat were killed.
Forensics could hold
the key to the truth. Mr. Tamang noted that hand-wash tests
conducted on Rana did not support claims of the police that he
opened fire on them — but the Gujarat authorities say the magistrate
ignored an earlier positive test conducted on-site. Mr. Tamang also
held that 7.62-millimetre bullets found on the person of the victims
were fired from a Kalashnikov AK 56 rifle found in the car — a claim
the police dispute, arguing that their officially-issued AK 47
weapons use the same ammunition.
Exhuming the truth
about what happened in Ahmedabad will need a transparent and
thoroughgoing investigation — a process that India’s judiciary must
(Courtesy: The Hindu)