On August 29 2012, five youths were picked up from their homes in a Muslim locality in Bangalore by the Central Crime Branch of the Karnataka police in connection with a terror plot. Once the news went out that among those arrested were Muthi-ur-Rahman Siddique, a journalist from Deccan Herald and a DRDO scientist, Aijaz Ahmed Mirza, and they had alleged plans to kill prominent right leaning persons, it sent shock waves across the state. Now, six months down the line, NIA has filed a chargesheet in the case, not before dropping charges against two of the twelve accused, including journalist Muthi-ur-Rahman Siddique. And as the things stand, the defense counsel of the accused claims that the charges levelled by NIA are mostly not prosecutable in nature.
A total of 25 people have been accused in the case, out of them close to 10 are absconding and have gone abroad, two have been dropped from the chargesheet, and for another two, including the DRDO scientist, the chargesheet is yet to be filed. The NIA, which took over the investigation from the Bangalore police on 25 November 2012, has filed a 65-page chargesheet in which they accuse them of being activists of Lashkar-e-Toiba and HuJI, who had plans to kill journalist Pratap Simha, Vishweshwar Bhat, editor of Kannada Prabha, Karnataka MP Prahlad Joshi and Ganu Jartarkar, an activist of the Hindu Jagran Vedike. Unlike the FIR, the chargesheet also accuses them of having made plans to even target police officers Dayanand (Joint Commissioner-East), Krishnam Raju and ACP Nyame Gowda. Incidentally, Dayanand was the head of investigations in the case before the NIA took over.
The chargesheet rests its case mainly on cyber forensic evidence (mostly email exchanges between the accused), 181 witnesses and confessional statements of the accused. Though, the chargesheet claims that the police had seized two Italian Beretta pistols from the accused from the crime scene, they however, have not been able to establish, from whom the accused purchased the weapon from. In the chargesheet it just mentions that, an ‘unknown person’ gave the weapon. Neither were the police able to explore and trace the entire network of how the alleged terrorists, who happen to be students in the age group of 20s, were able to get such sophisticated weapons. The chargesheet further claims, during the subsequent interrogation of the accused, that they were able to seize weapons from the accused’s house; however, the weapons listed are mostly ‘air pistols’, which the police claim was initially used for target practicing.
While the chargesheet claims that a huge cache of cyber forensic evidence has been procured by the police, including email exchanges and material procured from the hard disk, the evidence produced consists mostly of materials which is commonly available on the internet including, ‘videos of the American occupation in Afghanistan’, books on Islam and religion in general, articles – ‘who are Taliban’, and a general history of ‘French revolution and Great Wall of China’. The chargesheet however, shows a ‘Microsoft word document’, which it claims it intercepted from one of the email exchanges, which has a list of people to be targeted along with their pictures. In the evidence, the chargesheet claims that the actual planning was a coded message wherein the accused had laid out their nefarious plan. Defense Lawyer Sultan Beary says that the coded messages were how the police were reading into it. ‚ÄúThey were attending a marriage and most of the conversations are of that,‚ÄĚ he said.
The chargesheet also names close to ten people as absconding and residing in the Gulf States. However it is silent on why even after six months, they haven’t been able to extradite any of the accused, including the alleged ‘mastermind’ Zakir alias Ustad (Shaheed Faisal). Neither has the police mentioned whether they made any effort for extradition, and what were its results.
Since the NIA has taken over the case, the charge of ‘waging war against the state‚Äô has also been dropped and they are currently been charged for criminal conspiracy, creating enmity between people and for dacoity.
Whether the police will finally be able to prove their case or if the alleged accused did in fact indulge in anti-national activities, it will take time for the courts to decide. However, it is feared that, by the time a decision will be reached in their case, a couple of years of their life will be lost in prison.