Almost a year after he allegedly masterminded the attack on the American Center, the trial of prime accused Aftab Ansari started at the city civil and sessions court on Tuesday amid unprecedented security bandobast and heightened interest — among ordinary Calcuttans — in the man who “imported terror” into the city.
Ansari, also a key accused in the abduction of Khadim’s vice-chairman Parthapratim Roy Burman (the trial is yet to start in that case), was brought to Calcutta from Dubai in March 2002, marking an important breakthrough in the case in which four policemen were killed by gunmen on January 22.
Judge P.L. Datta heard out the interrogation of Ansari and two witnesses — both railway employees — for over two hours, before adjourning proceedings.
Ansari, dressed in a natty sky-blue jacket and black trousers, but looking a little tired, stepped down from the prison van around 1.30 pm. The 300-strong police cordon had a tough time pushing back the crowd that wanted to catch a glimpse.
The proceedings began around 1.50 pm with the grilling of the witnesses by Aftab’s lawyers (Syed Imam, Ashok Mukherjee and Abu Barkat Dhali). The prosecution said the two railway employees were at the booking counter when two of Ansari’s accomplices — one of them, Mohammad Zahid, was present during the shoot-out — bought a reserved ticket from Howrah to Hazaribagh in Jharkhand. Both were killed there later in a police shoot-out.
The railway employees identified, with the help of their lawyers (identity kept secret because of security concerns), the requisition slip filled out by Zahid and his friend (Idris) and their reserved ticket.
The grilling of Ansari began soon after. Public prosecutor Ashok Bakshi asked Ansari about his links with Zahid and Idris. Aftab replied in a soft-spoken drawl (the contents of his reply cannot be printed because it may hamper the trial by influencing other witnesses).
The grilling continued till 3.30 pm, after which Aftab was taken back to Presidency jail.
On reaching Presidency jail Ansari lambasted the quality of food he was given and the “misbehaviour” of a section of the staff.