Aug. 30: From dawn to the dead of night, from Kashmir to the capital, terror capped a week that unfolded with the Mumbai bombings.
Morning broke with the news of a Srinagar encounter at the end of which the security establishment showcased the blood-streaked body of a man they identified as Gazi Baba, blamed for taking India and Pakistan to the brink of war by plotting the attack on Parliament.
As darkness fell, it was Delhi’s turn to freeze. Two suspected militants of the Jaish-e- Mohammad — Gazi Baba’s organisation — were shot dead in an encounter in the capital.
The gunfight followed chilling news in two instalments — 21 kg of explosives were found at the New Delhi railway station and a truck laden with arms was intercepted in central Delhi. The truck trail led police to the two militants who died in the encounter. ( )
But the claim in Srinagar of the biggest breakthrough in recent times in the hunt for most-wanted fugitives ran into questions from within and a denial by Gazi Baba’s outfit.
So confident was the BSF top gun who announced the prize casualty after the eight-hour encounter that he staked the claim on his reputation and snapped: “I am not a damn fool…. We were targeting him (Gazi Baba) for the past two months and I am sure it is him.”
BSF inspector-general Vijay Raman’s unequivocal assertion was in response to questions that referred to a statement by Jaish. The statement said its chief commander was not even in the house that was raided.
But Raman said the BSF made a “sensational breakthrough” by killing Gazi Baba, “who had struck at the root of India’s democratic institutions by attacking Parliament (in 2001) and the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly”.
Earlier in the day when rumours flew thick and fast about Gazi Baba, Raman was tight-lipped. He said if the “big fish” was identified, he would hold a news conference, which he did. He must have been reasonably certain to have gone public.
In private, however, senior officers of the state police questioned the authenticity of the BSF claim. “It might well be Gazi Baba but, as of now, there is a big if,” an officer said. “They could have waited for some time to be doubly sure.”
The officer explained that very few people know what Gazi Baba looks like, so identification could take time. “If the BSF has clinching evidence, we have not seen it,” he added.
The Centre stepped in at night to address the questions. Minister of state for home I.D. Swami said that as Jaish “is denying it, we are considering getting his face screened by the accused in the Parliament attack case now lodged in Delhi jails”. Among those sentenced to death and awaiting in prison the outcome of an appeal is Mohammed Afzal, who had provided an account of Gazi Baba to the police.
The BSF, which had mentioned five militants, brought out two bodies. Raman said the second body was of Rashid Bhai, the operational commander of Jaish in the Valley.
A Jaish spokesman had told a news agency that seven persons were involved, of whom three were killed. The spokesman again contacted the agency to revise the loss to two.
Raman said Gazi Baba’s wife, who hails from the Valley, and three-month-old child were seen coming out of the house. Asked if she would be arrested for sheltering him, the inspector-general said: “We do not take ladies into custody. We were after Gazi Baba and we got him.”
The BSF had been getting information over the last two weeks that the militant leader was in Srinagar. The initial tip-off came following the interrogation of a Pakistani militant and, once the BSF located the house, troops encircled the area while the city slept. The action started at 4 am.
The troops ran into heavy resistance as the militants lobbed grenades and opened fire. But the force managed to enter the house and rescue some civilians.
Once certain that no civilian was trapped inside, the BSF blasted the building, though it claimed that the house was brought down by the explosives stored by the terrorists. Raman said a BSF jawan was killed and three officers and five jawans were injured.