CBI probe hints of undue haste by ATS Mumbai

Mumbai: Amid demands for a fresh probe into 2006 Malegaon blasts, the CBI has hinted that Mumbai Police`s elite Anti-Terror Squad had in its rush to solve the case named two of the accused without realising that one of them was languishing in jail while another was 700 kms away from the town at the time of the explosions.

The ATS charge sheet claims that one of the main accused Mohammed Zahid was present in the powerloom town on September eight, 2006 when the three powerful bombs went off killing over 35 people.

The new team of the CBI, which is trying to open the knots in the 2006 Malegaon blasts case, has, however, got eye-witnesses to testify that Zahid was leading the Friday prayers in a village 700 kms from Malegaon on the day of the explosions.

Zahid was alleged to be involved in the activities of banned SIMI. However, he was not present at the scene of crime, say senior CBI officials who are investigating the case again.

The CBI officials claimed that the then ATS officials simply chose to ignore the eye-witness accounts and attempted to stick to the theory which was apparently framed by some officials who wanted to close the case quickly, the sources said.

Union Minority Affairs Minister Salman Khursheed had also said that there should be a re-investigations into the 2006 Malegoan case and that people, if found innocent, should be released.

These comments came after Minorities Commission Chairman Wajahat Habibullah said that he would be taking up the matter about Malegaon 2006 probe with the government as he had got several representations for the same.

The second loophole in the case was the arrest of Shabbir Masiullah alias Shhabir Batterywala. The ATS had accused that in May 2003, one of the arrested accused Mohammad Ali Shaikh had sent Shabbir Batterywala to Pakistan for training in weapon handling and assembling of bombs laden with RDX.

Ali, along with Junaid and two more persons, had transported 15 kg of RDX to Malegaon, which was stored in Shabbir`s godown.

However, it has been found that Shabbir had been in police custody in connection with the July 11, 2006 train blasts and as the initial probe of CBI suggests, he had no role to play in the conspiracy to conduct the blast at Malegaon, the sources said.

The CBI also claimed that it had got the prime witnesses, who had helped in preparing the sketches of the accused who had planted the bomb in Malegaon, and as the investigation goes now, the eyewitness accounts showed clean-shaven men while all accused had kept beards for years.

The entire ATS investigation went into a tail-spin after the confession of Swami Aseemanand, member of right wing Abhinav Bharat, before a magistrate in which he claimed that Malegaon 2006 attack was carried out by Hindu extremist groups.

Aseemanand, who was recently arrested by CBI, has stated in his confessional statement that the 2006 blast was masterminded by Hindu group Abhinav Bharat and that a Muslim youth arrested in the case had brought about a change in his heart which led him to spill the beans.

The CBI has already carried out preliminary questioning of accused including Sadhvi Pragya Thakur and sacked Army colonel S P Purohit, Dayanand Pandey, Praveen Mutalik and Rakesh Dhawde after seeking the requisite permission from the court as they were in judicial custody in connection with the Malegaon blasts of 2008.

The CBI now plans to take the custody of Swami Aseemanand in connection with the case.

Aseemanand, alias Jatin Chatterjee, had alleged in his statement that RSS activists had murdered worker Sunil Joshi, who along with others was responsible for the 2006 blasts.

The sources said a CBI team led by a Joint Director camped in Malegaon to examine all forensic evidence that had been collected by the ATS, which was led by the then Joint Commissioner K P Raghuvanshi and his Deputy Inspector General Subodh Jaiswal.

The CBI was re-examining all the forensic and explosive material seized from the area in connection with the three bomb explosions in the communally-sensitive Malegaon on September 8, 2006.

Besides examining the material evidence, the CBI was also likely to question some of the officials involved in the investigations which include the then Additional Superintendent of Police (Rural) Nashik Rajvardhan, a 1997 IPS officer, who has been accused of being behind the alleged wrongful arrests earlier in the case.

The CBI has also plans to examine the role of officials of Maharashtra Anti-Terror Squad, which had filed a charge sheet against nine people in the case, and re-visit their investigations into the case, the sources said.

The blast occurred on Shab-e-Baraat, considered auspicious by Muslims, when they assemble to pay respects to their dead kin. The police claimed that 20 kgs of RDX was smuggled to Malegaon and around five kgs used to make the bombs that killed 35 people.