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Few straight answers yet

By Anjali Mody

NEW DELHI DEC. 8. The December 13 attack on Parliament was considered the most audacious terror attack in India. It was an attack at the heart of Indian democracy, we were told, a sign that the enemy would stop at nothing. In the surcharged atmosphere after December 13, 1,00,000 Indian troops were positioned on the border in preparation for war. Yet, almost one year later, there are few straight answers about the attack, apart from the fact that it happened.

The five men who conducted the attack are dead. According to the authorities, they were Pakistani nationals. Four other Pakistani nationals, including Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) `commander' Ghazi Babi, are proclaimed offenders. But four Indians, a Delhi University lecturer, a pregnant housewife, her businessman husband and a former JKLF militant were accused of conspiring, with the dead, to wage war against the state, assassinate elected leaders, and terrorise the Indian people.

Ignored by a disinterested media the trial of these four persons has been conducted at a pace unprecedented in the history of the Indian judiciary. The trial, at the special POTA court of Justice S.N. Dhingra in New Delhi, took less than six months, including court recesses. In the course of the trial over 90 witnesses were heard; hundreds of documents, half-a-dozen mobile phones, intercepted telephone calls, a laptop, explosive substances and a television interview were examined as material evidence. The Delhi police special cell investigated the case.

On December 11, less than one year from the date of the attack, the court will decide on the innocence or guilt of the four on charges for which the maximum punishment is death.

The four accused are: Syed Abdul Rehman Geelani, lecturer in Arabic at Zakir Hussain College, Delhi University, Afsan Guru/Navjot Sandhu, daughter of a retired railway official and wife of a Kashmiri businessman, Shaukat Hussain Guru, a former Delhi University student and now a member of the Sopore Apple Market, and Mohammed Afzal, a former JKLF militant who in 1995 laid down arms and attempted to re-enter mainstream life.

According to the chargesheet, the four are members of the JeM which, acting on the instructions of Ghazi Baba, planned the attack on Parliament. The prosecution's case is that the conspiracy involving Afzal, Shaukat, Geelani and Afsan came to light after they recovered a set of mobile phone instruments and slips of paper from the dead terrorists.

The call records of these telephones showed calls to telephone number 9811489429 which allegedly belonged to Afzal. This phone's call record showed calls to 9810081228 and 981157350, belonging to Geelani and Shaukat. A telephone tap was placed on both these numbers. As Geelani's had a subscriber account they were able to get his address. They placed his house, in New Delhi, under surveillance on December 13 and 14 and arrested him on December 15. Geelani, the prosecution said, led them to the home of Afsan and Shaukat. And Afsan gave them the whereabouts of her husband and Afzal. They were arrested on the same day in Srinagar, allegedly with a laptop and Rs. 10 lakhs.

Following the arrests Afzal led the police to his `hide-outs' from where they recovered explosive substances and also to the shops from where he had made purchases to assemble the explosives. Police also took Shaukat, who had no role in the recoveries, with them to each of these sites. At these places police identified Afzal and Shaukat as the men involved in the Parliament attack, and the landlords of the property and the shopkeepers then positively identified them as the men they had seen.

Police also recorded confessions by Afzal and Shaukat in which they admitted their guilt and implicated Geelani and Afsan. Neither Geelani nor Afsan made confessional statements. The prosecution argued that the confessional statements taken in conjunction with the material evidence revealed a conspiracy involving the four. This was the crux of the prosecution's case, and was widely publicised in the days after the attack. In fact, even before the police recorded Afzal's statement they presented him to the media before whom he made what appeared to be a complete public confession.

This was apparently an open and shut case.

The defence, however, has argued that the case throws up more questions than it presents answers. The first crucial link in the chain, Afzal's alleged telephone, was found to have been in use many weeks before he purchased it. All the four accused have challenged the police version of their arrests. Shaukat retracted his confession. Evidence was shown, in court, to have been tampered with. The evidence contradicted police statements. Afzal denied that he had made statements implicating Geelani or Afsan. The High Court pronounced as inadmissible, under POTA, the taped telephone intercepts which the prosecution relied on as corroborative evidence.

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