The Telegraph
Monday , February 11 , 2013
Since 1st March, 1999
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‘Lightning speed’ probe

A man requests policemen for permission to cross barbed wire set up as road blockade on the second consecutive day of curfew in Srinagar on Sunday. (AP)

New Delhi, Feb. 10: Four key arrests, including that of Afzal Guru, within two days and his clinching confession on the ninth day.

The Parliament attack case is seen as one of the fastest ever cracked by Delhi police’s special cell, the wing dealing with terror offences.

Besides Afzal, the others included his cousin Mohammed Shaukat, Shaukat’s wife Afsan and Delhi University professor S.A.R. Geelani, who was later acquitted.

Within four days of the December 13, 2001, siege, hideouts of the suspects and the shops from which the explosives were bought were identified. Within nine days, the accused confessed before a magistrate, statements that are treated as valid evidence in court.

The “lightning” speed at which the case was solved was also noted by the Supreme Court. “The five terrorists were ultimately killed and their abortive attempt to lay a seize of the Parliament House thus came to an end, triggering off extensive and effective investigations spread over a short span of 17 days which revealed the possible involvement of the four accused persons.”

After the 30-minute gun battle at Parliament, clues were strewn all over. Station house officer Gurbax Lal Mehta, also the first prosecution witness, picked up two slips bearing some domestic mobile phone numbers and two numbers registered in the UAE. Three SIM cards were found on one of the terrorists shot dead.

“I was at Jantar Mantar monitoring arrangements as a protest by Congress supporters was on. I got a message on my wireless that Parliament House is under siege. When we reached all the gates were locked and the gun battle was on,” Mehta said.

The Ambassador —with the number DL3CJ1527 — in which the attackers had arrived was flashed on TV. The person who sold the car on December 11, just two days before the attack, came rushed to the police to give evidence — this was the first concrete clue.

“By (December) 13th night itself, my officers had told me they were close to cracking the case,” said Ajai Raj Sharma, the Delhi police commissioner at the time.

The phone numbers and SIM cards offered the other leads. Based on call records, the police narrowed down to three numbers.

The cops claimed the first two belonged to Afzal and Shaukat but, being pre-paid connections for which verification then was not as stringent as it is now, the sleuths could not get the address. The third number was registered in the name of professor Geelani at 535 Dr. Mukherjee Nagar, Delhi.

On December 15 at 10am, a special cell team reached Geelani’s home. Geelani led them to Shaukat’s house.

At 10.45am they arrested Shaukat’s wife Afsan, who revealed the number of the truck — registered in her name — in which Shaukat and Afzal escaped to Srinagar. The number was sent to Srinagar police and, by 11.45am, the duo were arrested there.

Over the next two days, Delhi police took Afzal and Shaukat to the houses where the terrorists had stayed in Indira Vihar and Gandhi Vihar, both near Delhi University’s north campus, before the attack.

The clincher, though, came on December 19 when Afzal expressed readiness to confess. The procedure was wrapped up two days later. The December 21 confession, recorded by DCP Ashok Chand at a police mess, lasted over three-and-a-half hours, from 7.10pm to 10.45pm. It was ratified before a magistrate the next day.

The speed catapulted the special cell to the top of the intelligence charts with some suggesting Delhi police had truly arrived with the case.

“It was one of the most challenging cases and the special cell team worked very fast and meticulously. I remember after the arrest of Afzal Guru and others, the special cell gained a special place and we were appreciated by other state police teams at conferences,” said IPS officer Karnal Singh, who had joined the cell in 2004 while the trial was on. He is now with the Enforcement Directorate in Chandigarh.

But the feat was tinged with twin tragedies: two key investigators, ACP Rajbir Singh and inspector Mohan Chand Sharma, died in unrelated incidents in 2008.

Rajbir was shot in a property dealer’s office in Gurgaon, allegedly over a soured property deal. Mohan Chand Sharma died battling terrorists in the Batla House encounter in September that year.

Mohan Chand Sharma, admired for his phone-analysis skills, had scanned the three phones and the SIM cards. Ajai Raj Sharma, the former police chief, said: “They (Rajbir and Mohan Chand) were both such fine officers. Without them we would have never been able to crack the case.”