War in warren-like Delhi - Blast suspects killed in gun battle

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By NISHIT DHOLABHAI AND ANANYA SENGUPTA in Delhi
  • Published 19.09.08
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New Delhi, Sept. 19: Security forces shot dead two alleged Indian Mujahideen operatives in southeast Delhi’s Jamianagar today and claimed a vital breakthrough in unravelling the countrywide serial bombing network.

Delhi police lost a decorated officer in the mid-morning counter-strike within days of last Saturday’s chain blasts, but exuded a sense of triumph over the operation mounted by a special cell and a National Security Guard team.

One of those killed, Mohammed Atif Amin, is being touted by the police as the “mastermind” of the Delhi blasts. The other, Mohammed Sajid, was an accomplice and roommate of Atif in their fourth-floor apartment, the police said.

A third partner, Mohammed Saif, was caught by the cops even as the dramatic operation proceeded, but two alleged militants managed to escape, probably jumping rooftops that stand cheek-by-jowl in the warren-like locality.

Delhi police, under attack for last Saturday’s lapses, asserted they had rallied to hit back. “We have been able to eliminate the chief of the Indian Mujahideen,” said Karnail Singh, joint commissioner of the special cell.

Late evening, though, the police’s achievement lay a little stained — inspector Mohan Chand Sharma, 41, a gallantry award winner who led the operation and was the first to be hit, died in Holy Family Hospital close to the encounter site.

Besides, many in the neighbourhood and beyond raised questions about the police version of the events. The Indian Mujahideen had claimed responsibility for the Delhi blasts; thus far, we have only the police’s word on whether Atif was a “top operative” and “mastermind” of the blasts.

The police said Atif and Sajid were students of Jamia Millia Islamia, which university authorities denied.

Jamianagar, a congested low and middle-income neighbourhood hugging the Yamuna, is no stranger to police operations; it is forever on the watch list by sheer dint of its majority Muslim composition.

The police said their special cell team, led by Sharma, closed in on flat number L-18 on the fourth floor of Batla House on the basis of “specific information” that Abdul Subhan Qureshi aka Tauqeer, the Simi operative alleged to be co-ordinating all-India terror operations, was hiding there.

Sharma’s troopers — only a handful of them — moved into the narrow lane where Batla House stands in three unmarked cars — a Santro, a Wagon R and an Indica.

The police said the team had gone there not to conduct an encounter but “merely to make enquiries”, which may explain why Sharma and head constable Balwant, the other cop to sustain injuries, wore no bullet-proof protection. The moment they knocked on the doors of L-18, they were fired upon from inside. The action had begun. It was 10 minutes past 11 in the morning, and Sharma had already taken bullets in his abdomen.

Mohammed Saif, who was arrested on Friday. File picture

The actual engagement is said to have lasted not more than 45 minutes but the operation took an hour and a half to call off because the search for the two fugitives was on.

The narrow lane leading to Batla House was cordoned off and teemed with policemen. Soon enough, the area was choking over with the curious and the concerned — local bystanders and, tearing through them, media teams.

By the time the end was called, the police had fired 22 rounds at those closeted behind the doors of L-18 and taken eight bullets fired from inside. When they broke in, they found, other than the two dead youths, both aged 22, an AK-47 automatic and 20 pistols in the one-room apartment.

“Atif, a top Indian Mujahideen operative, is the mastermind of the Delhi blasts and he is also linked to the blasts in Ahmedabad and Jaipur,” police commissioner Y.S. Dadwal later said. “He was in Ahmedabad before the blasts and had reached there on March 24. He returned on the 27th with 12 others, including two who had helped the team acquire cars used in the blasts there.”

Landlord Abdul Rehman said neither Atif nor his friends had let slip anything to suggest they were involved in the blasts. “He was a friend of my son. I have a rent agreement signed by him and a copy of his driving licence issued from Azamgarh (Atif’s home district in Uttar Pradesh). I had submitted the police verification form on August 21,” he said amid local clamour that the encounter had been faked.

The police, though, proceeded strong-jawed and picked up five residents, including Rehman, for questioning.

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