Investigations revealed that the two militants — Jahur Ahmed (29) and Naseer Ahmed (30) — along with a couple of other top Jamait men, were to have crossed over to Bangladesh on January 15 en route to Nepal. Naseer told interrogators that the Jamait was behind the recent anti-India and anti-Hrithik Roshan riots that rocked the Himalayan kingdom.
According to officers in the Subsidiary Intelligence Bureau, the Jammu and Kashmir police had unearthed a plot by the militants to blow up vital installations on Republic Day.
Eyewitnesses said seven crack commandos from the J&K police surrounded the hotel on Zakaria Street late last night.
Four commandos stood guard outside while three walked up to the first floor and knocked on the door. As soon as Naseer opened the door, the commandos barged in and pinned both men on the ground.
The militants were whisked out of the hotel and dumped into a jeep even before local residents could realise what had happened.
They were produced in a local court and remanded in police custody till January 20. The two men will be produced in a Srinagar court on January 21.
Speaking to The Telegraph over phone from Jammu, J&K director-general of police Ashok Suri described Jahur and Naseer as dreaded terrorists and ISI agents who had crossed over to India during the Kargil war.
“They were Jamait recruits and were involved in several massacres in Kashmir. Our officers were working on the sources for the past two months. We received positive information about their whereabouts and sent our crack officers to Calcutta and Srinagar,” Suri said.
The operation followed the arrest and interrogation of Jamait chief commander Mirza Muzzaffar in Srinagar.
The commandos “quietly” arrived in the city on Sunday night. They did not inform the local police initially, fearing a leak.
Masquerading as shawl sellers, Jahur and Naseer arrived in the city last month. “There are a large number of shawl traders from Kashmir here and we thought that nobody will be able to identify us,” Jahur said.
Naseer said they were waiting for their “immediate boss”, an area commander in the Jamait hierarchy, whose code name was “Professor”. “The ISI has set up a base in Bangladesh to train extremists and we were to have spent a couple of days there,” Jahur added.
The director of the state forensic laboratory, N.K. Nag, and his team collected burst cartridges, splinters and explosive material from the first floor of the house.
After Thursday night’s incident, Mondal had filed an FIR at the nearest police station at Garbeta, alleging a “massacre” of 11 Trinamul supporters by the CPM in his house that was set aflame.
All the evidence was collected by the forensic team from a 40-sq-ft room on the first floor. The empty cartridges recovered were not fired from guns, but burst in a fire, which explained their low projectile velocity, Nag said.
CID investigators backed up this theory. They said Naxalites had built an armoury in Mondal’s house.
The Left extremist People’s War Group, which, too, has claimed that 10 of its supporters were massacred by the CPM that night, has become a political force strong enough to compete with the big two — CPM and Trinamul-BJP — across the region on the Midnapore-Bankura-Hooghly borders.
Investigators said two people hold the key to resolving the mystery of what happened here on Thursday night: Asit Sarkar, leader of the Biplabi Krishak Front — a PWG offshoot — and Mondal. The whereabouts of Asit, a former CPM supporter expelled over corruption charges linked to the local cash-flush potato trade, are not known. Mondal remains inaccessible to the media.
For the first time since he filed an FIR on Friday, Mondal was interrogated by the DIG (CID) Chayan Mukherjee, who is leading the inquiry, today.
Refusing to bring Mondal out in public, Trinamul leaders at the camp said he had lost his mind. His wife, Anisha Bibi, was speaking and what she said contradicted the version given by Mondal.
She said her husband had gone back to Chhoto Angaria four days before the incident. Mondal, on the contrary, had claimed that he and other Trinamul supporters had returned on the day of the incident after being assured by two CPM leaders that it was now safe to do so.
Mondal is accused of having connections with a murder in nearby Chamkaitala (case No. 45/2000) and with another case at Arambag in neighbouring Hooghly.
Circumstantial evidence gathered by a correspondent of The Telegraph during travels across 200 km in the region suggests that Mondal’s primary loyalty is to the PWG and not to Trinamul.
Asit, the driving force behind the PWG in the area, is wanted in several cases of murder, extortion and kidnapping.
A Calcutta University graduate and a native of the relatively prosperous Sandhipur, Asit re-emerged as a political activist in 1990, three years after his expulsion, having used the intervening period to set up link with the PWG and form and consolidate the Krishak Front. Around 1994-95, the Trinamul-BJP combine also began to grow in the region, riding the wave of local resentment against the ruling Left.
These two forces on the rise — as opposed to the CPM’s declining strength — began to come into conflict, leading to the murder of BJP leader Swarup Sarkar in July 1999, allegedly at the hands of Asit’s group. In retaliatory killings, Asit lost brother Anath and four other relatives.
Investigators said PWG activists used a dense forest-route across Midnapore’s border with Bankura to smuggle in weapons and stored these in several places, including Mondal’s house, where a fire took place that night. The fire could have been caused by the explosive material stored there.
Evidence of the possible presence of people during the incident was found by the forensic team, which, after biological tests, confirmed certain spots as blood stains. But in most, the patches failed the test, proving they were not blood blotches.
Nag said: “We were informed only on Monday. It would have been better if we could come earlier. Much of the evidence has been taken away from the spot.”
The Bengal government has not explained why it did not send the forensic team before politicians and all manner of people freely moved about the house, collecting “evidence”.
Police, who gathered evidence earlier, have, however, said they found spent cartridges fired from muskets used in a clash between two groups, believed to be CPM and Trinamul supporters.
The forensic team did not appear to have spotted any sign of a clash, but, being the last to arrive, that evidence might have escaped it. Nag did not find any evidence of the house having been attacked from outside either.
He said it would not have been possible to flee from the house, jumping from the 25-foot-high first floor without suffering injury.
The team did not find dragmarks on the staircase as confirmation that bodies were pulled out of the house that night.
Nag highlighted missing out on much of the evidence when he said the police should have kept the place of occurrence protected.
Mukherjee visited the spot today for the first time and said there was no clash involving the CPM and Trinamul or the PWG. The DIG claimed that the rumour of a clash was spread to cover up the explosion of the armoury.
Mondal sought political shelter by fabricating a story that his house had been attacked, Mukherjee said.
The PWG connection resurfaces in the list of Trinamul supporters killed given by Mondal in his FIR.
The Naxalite group, claiming that its members were massacred that night, mentioned the same names.
One of them is Shyam Patra, figuring on both lists. Patra, also a resident of Sandhipur, took over the reins of the Krishak Front once Asit disappeared from the area after being implicated in the Swarup Sarkar murder.
Officers of the Jorasanko police station present at the morgue said the bodies have been shifted to Calcutta following a “special order” from the district administration.
District police sources said this was a “routine exercise”. The bodies were of villagers from Pingla, near Keshpur, They were all, apparently, CPM supporters killed in political clashes.
But Trinamul Congress supporters, who gathered outside the morgue late on Tuesday, insisted that the bodies had arrived from Garbeta.
“We are sure that these are the bodies of our supporters killed in Chhoto Angaria. Midnapore has the largest district morgue after Calcutta. Why have the police decided to transfer these bodies to Calcutta and that too in the dark of the night?” demanded Trinamul leader Madan Mitra.
He was accompanied by several supporters armed with cameras, waiting to click the “bullet-ridden bodies”.
They were soon joined by Subrata Mukherjee, Sudip Bandopadhyay, Pankaj Banerjee and over a hundred supporters — all waiting for Mamata Banerjee to arrive. Local Congress leader Tapas Roy also turned up.
“The state administration has told us that these are bodies of CPM supporters. But how has Buddhababu suddenly discovered their political allegiance? Next, he’ll say these are his cousins... We’ll camp here till we are allowed a closer look at the bodies,” declared the mayor.
But the police said the four — Srikanta Singh, Sukhdev Pingua, Gangadhar Adhikary and Sadhan Mullick — had gone missing in the last week of November. Their bodies were discovered by villagers and handed over to the district police. “While one is now a skeleton, the rest are highly putrefied,” said DC (central) Raj Kanojia.
The post-mortem report conducted at the Midnapore Sadar morgue put the primary cause of deaths down to “rioting with arms”. Police sources said A.K. Ghosh of the forensic department would arrive at the morgue “at 10 am on Wednesday” to conduct the tests.
Crime branch officials searched the office of B4U in a western suburb late last night and seized documents which they said were crucial for investigation into Shah’s alleged connection with Chhota Shakeel, the Dubai-based henchman of Dawood Ibrahim.
Shah has a stake in the 24-hour music-cum-entertainment channel started last year by heavyweight NRIs, including steel magnate Laxmi Mittal. Kishore Lulla of Eros entertainment and Gokul Binani of Binani Cement also have stakes in the channel.
Mega Bollywood Ltd, Shah’s main office on Lamington Road near Churchgate, was also searched. A police team combed the financier’s bungalow in the upmarket Napean Sea Road area today, seizing papers on his investment in the film industry.
Shah’s arrest led to panic selling in the newly-listed media stock counters. Shares of Balaji Telefilms, Tips, Mukta Arts and Pritish Nandy Communications plunged. The stocks of Creative Eye, Tabasum International and ETC Networks also dipped. Other major losers in the sector were Jain Studios, Zee, TV 18, Saregama and Hinduja Finance.
The slide came following rumours of raids on the premises of Balaji Telefilms, owned by actor Jeetendra, and Subhash Ghai’s Mukta Arts offices, though the reports were not confirmed. Jeetendra and Ghai issued denials on the alleged raids.
Police commissioner M.N. Singh said Income-Tax authorities have been asked to probe Shah’s source of funds and evaluate his assets. He said the police had irrefutable evidence of Shah’s links with the underworld, including audio-cassettes of his conversation with Chhota Shakeel.
The police chief said there would be no let-up in the investigation into mob money pumped into the industry and those involved would be brought to justice. “I am chasing the underworld and I will continue to chase them,” Singh warned. “Those in touch with the underworld should know they are in a very, very risky business.”
Singh said the police would not try to prevent the release of Shah’s films — other than the already seized Chori Chori Chupke Chupke — unless they had evidence these were made with mob money.
Shah, arrested yesterday at the crime branch office under the harsh Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act that is known as the mini-Tada, was admitted to the state-run J.J. Hospital this morning after he complained of chest pain. He was put under intensive care by doctors at the hospital.
In the crime branch lock-up last evening, Shah was questioned repeatedly about his suspected links with the underworld. He would again be questioned on his return from the hospital, the police chief said.
The financier has repeatedly denied links to the mafia since the December 13 arrest of Nazim Hassan Rizvi, producer of Chori Chori Chupke Chupke, the film Shah claimed to have funded.
Police said the film was funded by Chhota Shakeel and accused Shah of fronting for the gangster.
With the film industry plunged into uncertainty since the arrest of the big-time financier, Bollywood producers met today to discuss the situation, but decided to let the police do its job unhindered. They said they were pleased with the police decision not to stop Shah’s films from being released.
The producers said Shah should not be pronounced guilty unless the court ruled against him. At least 10 films funded by Shah are in different stages of production, including the remake of Devdas, starring Shah Rukh Khan and Lajja with Aishwarya Rai and Madhuri Dixit.
Partly cloudy sky. Morning mist of fog in some areas. Minimum temperature likely to be around 13°C