gareth porter: delhi bomb fraud, all three parts
New Delhi police officials have released hundreds of pages of documents from their investigation into the Feb 13 bombing of an Israeli Embassy car. The documents aimed to show that a well-known Indian Muslim journalist aided an Iranian conspiracy to plan and carry out the bombing. But a review by IPS of the evidence filed in the case suggests that the Indian journalist accused in the case has been framed by the police, at least in part to implicate the Iranians in the terror plot. The “charge sheet” on the embassy car bombing filed by the “Special Cell” (SC) of the Delhi police Jul 31 claims Indian journalist Syed Mohommed Ahmad Kazmi confessed to helping officials from Iran plan the bombing plot in return for payments totalling $5,500. It also says that a moped used for reconnaissance by the Iranian said to have carried out the bombing was found in Kazmi’s residence and that forensic bomb-making evidence was discovered in the hotel room of that same Iranian. But an analysis of the documentation included in the filing reveals that the evidence is highly questionable. The SC has a long history of cases against alleged terrorists that were rejected by the court as involving framing people and planting false evidence.
Kazmi is an unlikely candidate for participation in an Iranian terrorist plot. A 50-year-old senior Indian journalist, he had his own web-based news service, a regular job as a columnist for the leading Urdu-language weekly and a retainer as Urdu newscaster for India’s state-owned television channel Doordarshan. He did not need the $5,500 police claim he received for helping the Iranians plan the bombing. Nor did he need the 2.26 million rupees ($40,000) in foreign remittances that Delhi police chief B K Gupta asserted in a press conference in mid-March that the journalist and his wife had received in their bank accounts. Gupta declared that Kazmi and his wife had been “unable to explain” those remittances. But Kazmi’s family has produced bank documents showing that the remittances had come from relatives in the UK and Singapore in 2009 and 2010. Furthermore, the “Economic Directorate” of the Indian Police assigned to investigate the remittances could find nothing incriminating in them, the Indian press has reported.
A more serious problem with the SC case is that it depends heavily on Kazmi’s alleged confession of guilt. That confession, consisting of five separate statements between Mar 6 and 24, is inadmissible as evidence under Indian law on the assumption that police will inevitably coerce those in their custody to make confessions. Kazmi has denounced all the “disclosure statements” attributed to him as false. He charged in a handwritten petition to the court Apr 16 that the SC had coerced him into providing his signature on blank pages. He said the police threatened that his family with “dire consequences” if he did not do as they directed. Except for the very first “disclosure statement” dated Mar 6, all of them are followed by the handwritten notation “Accused refused to sign”. Most of the five “disclosures” were clearly written by the Special Cell in order to implicate both Kazmi and three Iranians in the bombing plot. The disclosures make Kazmi appear eager to incriminate himself, even though the police account offers no reason for considering Kazmi a suspect, except that his mobile phone number was said to have been called by a Houshang Afshar Irani, who in turn was said to have been contacted by an Iranian involved in the Feb 14 explosion in Bangkok. The disclosure dated Mar 6 and supposedly given to police before Kazmi was even under arrest confesses to having been informed of the plot for a bombing in Delhi by a Seyed Ali Mahdiansadr during a visit to Tehran in Jan 2011, and having agreed to help the plotters.
Kazmi is also portrayed in the statement as admitting to having been given a Kinetic brand moped by Irani for safekeeping at his home during the first week in May 2011. The police cite that statement as the justification for immediately arresting him and for allegedly seizing the moped from Kazmi’s residence. There is good reason to believe that the police had already followed Irani’s trail during his two-week visit to Delhi in late April and early May 2011 and had learned before Kazmi’s arrest that he had purchased a used black Kinetic moped at a commercial showroom in Delhi on Apr 26. Kazmi’s family and lawyer Mehmood Pracha say the moped taken away from his residence Mar 6 was not the one identified in the police “seizure memo”, which has the same identification number as found on the receipt for Irani’s purchase of the scooter, but one left by Kazmi’s brother two years ago and never used during that time. The memo for the scooter is signed and dated by Deputy Chief of Police Sanjeev Yadav, the senior police official in the SC investigation, and one other officer. It is signed but not dated by a third officer. The fact that Kazmi’s signature is on the document without any date suggests that he signed a blank sheet of paper.
The Kinetic moped is crucial to the SC effort to link Kazmi to Irani’s alleged reconnaissance of the Israeli embassy to prepare for the bombing, because there is no other evidence except Kazmi’s own discredited “disclosures”. But the story about the moped raises serious questions about its plausibility. It would have made no sense for a terrorist to purchase a moped for that purpose, since Kazmi owned a car that would have made the task far easier as well as more secure. The alleged turnover of the moped to Kazmi by Irani at the end of his two-week visit makes even less sense, because it suggests that he was planning to use it again for the actual bombing operation. But someone contemplating an operation to affix a magnet bomb to a car would never have considered using a moped for the job. A Kinetic moped normally cannot go faster than 20 mph and is notoriously poor in acceleration, making a getaway for the bomber highly problematic. In the event, Irani rented a motorcycle when he returned, suggesting that had probably disposed of the moped by reselling it cheaply.
Another sign that the police had trouble linking Kazmi to Irani’s reconnaissance of the Israeli Embassy is the statement attributed to him in one of the “disclosures”. Whenever he met with Irani, his supposed disclosure says, “I used to leave my mobile phone at my residence.” That sentence was evidently included to explain why a search of Kazmi’s mobile phone records would not reveal any activity in the area where the “disclosure” claims Kazmi and Irani were carrying out reconnaissance of the Israeli Embassy during Irani’s two-week stay. The police used the same argument in a 2007 terrorism case in which they had alleged that the accused had taken a trip to Kashmir to collect explosives but had left his mobile phone at his guest house. The Court did not find the assertion credible, however, and threw out the charges.
The “Special Cell” of the Delhi police has identified an Iranian, Houshang Afghan Irani, as the man it believes carried out the Feb 13 car bombing. The police believe three other Iranians were also involved in the plot. But major questions about the integrity of evidence put forward to prove the existence of an Iranian bomb plot cast doubt on that claim, which is the centrepiece of the Israeli accusation that Iran has been waging a campaign of terrorism against Israelis in as many as 20 countries. Only Indian journalist Syed Mohammed Ahmad Kazmi has been officially charged in the case, and even the treatment of Irani and the other Iranians as suspects depends very heavily on “disclosure statements” supposedly made by Kazmi but denounced by the journalist as police fabrications. Although the Special Cell (SC) also claims to have forensic evidence of Irani’s link to the bombing, the evidence appears to be tainted by improper police procedures.
A central problem for the SC case is that it has no eyewitness testimony for its contention that Irani planted the bomb on the Israeli embassy car. A hotel security camera showed that Irani left the hotel the morning of the explosion wearing a black jacket. Irani had also rented a black Honda Karizma. But eyewitness Gopal Krishanan, who was driving the car that was directly behind the embassy car and thus had a clear view of the motorcycle rider when he attached the bomb to the rear of the car, said he was certain the rider had a red motorcycle and was wearing a red helmet and red jacket. The police were convinced by his testimony. Tal Yehoshua-Koren, who was injured in the attack but was able to get to the Israeli embassy without assistance, later told investigators she thought the attacker had been riding a black motorcycle and wearing a black jacket and helmet. A senior police officer involved in the case told the Indian Express, however, that Yehoshua-Koren could not be certain of the colour of the motorcycle. The police continued to search for a red motorcycle after obtaining her statement, as was widely reported in the Indian press. Only after the SC decided that Irani was the bomber did the police switch to the position that the bomber had been riding a black motorcycle and wearing a black helmet and jacket.
Irani became a target of the investigation after the SC learned that a phone number associated with Masoud Sedaghat Zadeh, one of the three Iranians staying in a Bangkok house where an explosion occurred Feb 14, had allegedly contacted the Indian mobile phone number being used by Irani. The charge sheet does not include documentation for the claim that Irani’s phone had been called by that of the accused in the Bangkok explosion. And Irani’s receipts shown in the charge sheet for the moped purchased in Apr 2011 and for the motorcycle rented in early 2012 list Indian mobile phone numbers different from the one cited as having been contacted by Zadeh. Irani made no effort to hide his identity in either of those transactions, so there would be no reason for him to write a false number on the receipt.
The police claim to have recovered from Irani’s hotel room seven items on which the government’s Central Forensic Science Laboratory found traces of TNT, the explosive that the bomb affixed to the embassy car contained. But the SC violated several police procedures in regard to that evidence, suggesting that it may have been planted by the Special Cell. It was not until Feb 29, sixteen days after Irani left the hotel, that the room was sealed by police. Even worse, another two weeks passed before it was actually inspected by the Special Cell on Mar 13, according to the charge sheet. Ordinarily, the passage of that much time between the date the items were allegedly left behind and their discovery would call into question the authenticity of the evidence. On Jul 28, a few days before the charge sheet was made public, the manager of the hotel produced an occupancy chart showing that Irani’s room had not been used during the 16 days between his departure and the police order to seal the room. The chart, which the hotel manager had plenty of time to prepare for the police, makes the highly unlikely claim that Irani’s room was not occupied by any guest during the 16-day period. The effort to show that the room had not been altered after Irani left it still fails to address the awkward question of how so much evidence could have been found in Irani’s room long after it would have been cleaned up by hotel staff. The belated occupancy chart only makes the forensic evidence claimed by the police appear even more suspicious.
The Kazmi “disclosures” portray an alleged plot that lacked either clear delineation of responsibility for reconnaissance of the embassy or the communication one would expect between the plotters in Tehran and their one local collaborator in Delhi during the crucial months before the explosion. At one point in a statement attributed to Kazmi but not signed by him, he is portrayed as having returned to Delhi from a trip to Tehran in Jan 2011 committed to intensive research on “security arrangements and the movement of vehicles and routes travelled to Israeli Embassy.” In discussing Irani’s visit to Delhi in Apr 2011, however, it does not mention any debriefing of Irani by Kazmi on such reconnaissance. Instead, Irani is said to have carried out the entire reconnaissance operation, with Kazmi’s help, all over again. When Kazmi’s disclosure comes to the visit of his Tehran contacts, Seyed Ali Mehdiansadr and Reza Abolghasemi, to Delhi in May and June 2011, it makes no reference to any discussion of the reconnaissance Irani had supposedly already done. The two visitors and Kazmi are said to have repeated the same reconnaissance on the embassy yet again, even noting the licence plate numbers of embassy cars.
An even more dramatic divergence from a coherent account of a terror plot is found in the long final Kazmi statement dated Mar 23 but unsigned by Kazmi. In describing Kazmi’s trip to Tehran in Jun 2011 the statement says Kazmi’s alleged key contact in the plot, Mehdiansadr, “inquired about the progress of the task assigned me.” But the disclosure statement then says the “task” in question was not gathering detailed information on potential Israeli Embassy targets, but sending “reports on the political developments in the Gulf region, like Syria, Bahrain, Iraq, etc.” In July and August, the same disclosure recounts, Kazmi travelled to Dubai and Syria, and when he communicated with his Tehran contacts, it was not about intelligence for a bombing plan but about his Dubai trip. Kazmi’s disclosure asserts, in fact, that he did not report to his Iranian contacts on any intelligence gathered on the Israeli Embassy between Jun 2011 and Jan 2012, despite allegedly having been given a mobile phone specifically for that purpose. The questionable character of the police case that the four Iranians conspired on the Delhi bombing does not rule out the possibility that it was an Iranian government operation, but it does indicate that SC investigators could not find convincing evidence of such an Iranian role.
The Delhi Police Special Cell, which has accused an Indian journalist and four Iranians of conspiring to bomb an Israeli embassy car in Delhi Feb 13, has a long history of planting evidence on those it has accused and of obtaining false confessions, according to court records now cited by critics of the police unit. The Special Cell (SC) was organised in 1986 to investigate terrorism and major crimes, but it has been given such wide latitude in its operations that it has violated legal norms with complete impunity, critics say. But the unit’s efforts to frame those it accuses have been so obvious, often employing the same tactics over and over again, that a significant majority of its cases have been rejected by judges in recent years. Of the 174 individuals against whom the SC has brought charges from 2006 through 2011, 119 of them, nearly 70%, have been acquitted, according to official figures obtained under India’s Right to Information Act by activist Gopal Prasad. The SC response to that development has been to leak false confessions and evidence to the news media in a largely unsuccessful effort to sway judges. Confessions falsified by the SC are “routinely leaked to the press to establish the guilt of the accused”, Manisha Sethi, an assistant professor at Jamia Milia University in Delhi and an activist with the civil rights organisation Jamia Teachers Solidarity Association, told IPS. She described the result as “a vicious trial by media that indicts the accused well before the trial even begins”.
In the recent embassy car bombing, the first wave of leaks to the press about the alleged confessions of Indian journalist Syed Mohommed Ahmad Kazmi was timed to generate a wave of sensational articles in March portraying Kazmi as admitting to having been a participant in the embassy car bomb plot just before his bail application, as Sethi pointed out in an e-mail to IPS. That maneuver prompted the court that was hearing Kazmi’s bail application to admonish the public prosecutor to refrain from such leaks. A report, soon to be published by the Jamia Teachers’ Solidarity Association and a copy of which has been obtained by IPS, on 16 terrorism cases brought by the SC from 1992 to 2008 documents a consistent pattern of irregularities in police procedures that led the courts to conclude that the police had framed those who had been accused. The report’s detailed accounts of the cases are based entirely on conclusions reached by the judges in rejecting the central claims of the SC. Among the most prominent irregularities documented in the report are those relating to incriminating evidence said to have been seized from suspects and to alleged confessions.
Typical of the SC terrorism cases described in the report is the case of Salman Kurshid Kori. The SC claimed that it arrested Kori and two other Muslim men as operatives of the militant Islamic group Lashkar-e-Toiba in Dec 2006. The SC reported seizing explosives, detonators and hand grenades from bags carried by each of the three men. But the judge for the case heard evidence that the accused had been detained much earlier than the dates cited by police. He also pointed out that there were no public witnesses to the seizure of the weapons, contrary to normal police procedures, despite the fact that a crowd had gathered to witness the arrest. Even more telling, the “seizure memo”, which should have been written at the site of the seizure well before the “First Information Report” (FIR) was filed in the case, was found to have been written in the same handwriting and ink as the FIR. Those obvious signs of police deception convinced the judge that the SC had framed the three men.
The SC officer who supervised the interrogation and arrest of the three men was then-Assistant Commissioner of Police Sanjeev Yadav, now an Additional Deputy Commissioner of Police and in charge of the embassy car bomb case. The Kori case is not the only one over which Yadav presided to have been rejected by a judge because of indications that innocent people were framed. The report documents a total of four such cases, all from 2006 and 2007, in which the seizure memo was signed at the same time and by the same person as the FIR. Also, no public witnesses attested to the seizures, and the suspects were found to have been detained much earlier than claimed. Yadav is also under investigation by the Indian government for the deaths of five people who were said to have been killed in a violent “encounter” in May 2006 in Delhi’s Sonia Vihar district between an SC team and what was believed to be a criminal gang. Relatives of two of the dead alleged in a petition to the National Human Rights Commission that the victims had been taken from their residences by police and then killed in Delhi. After examining forensic evidence surrounding the supposed encounter, the NHRC concluded in a mid-2010 report that no “cross firing” had occurred, and thus that the police account had been falsified. That report led to the launch of an investigation by a magistrate into the incident last September.
In a separate investigative report published last February on SC abuses in terrorism cases, Sethi described a common pattern in one case after another: alleged secret information from an informant about the arrival of a terrorist in Delhi, followed by dispatch of a police party to the point of arrival; unsuccessful efforts to get civilians to be public witnesses; the apprehension of the “terrorist”; and subsequent recovery of arms or explosives, which were displayed to the press. Only when each of the cases went to trial was the SC narrative found to have been bogus, according to Sethi’s investigation, which was also based on court documents. In the 2005 case of Moinuddin Dar and Bashir Amad Shah described by Sethi, the SC claimed that the two men were Kashmiri terrorists who had come to Delhi from Kashmir carrying 450,000 rupees ($8,000) in a car loaded with arms and ammunition, after the SC had been informed by a confidential source when and where they were arriving. Upon arrest, the two men had allegedly confessed to their terrorist plan. But Sethi recounted that the case soon fell apart in court when the judge found that the car full of arms and ammunition had been “planted” and “used as a tool to falsely implicate the accused persons in this case”. He found that the police vehicle that was supposed to have taken the police team to the site of the arrest had actually not moved that day, and that the two men had been held illegally by police in a hotel room for two weeks.
After investigating another 2006 SC terrorism case, India’s Central Bureau of Investigation called for three SC officers to be charged with lying under oath and creating false evidence. But despite several instances in which courts directed the Delhi Police Commissioner to initiate legal action against officers of the SC for various abuses, none have yet been punished.