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Breakthrough in Delhi blasts probe

Praveen Swami

Suspect detained at Banihal in Jammu

NEW DELHI: Police and intelligence authorities in Jammu and Kashmir have made the first substantial breakthrough in investigations of the October 29 serial bombing of New Delhi, which claimed 63 lives.

Ghulam Mohammad Mohiuddin, an alleged Hizb-ul-Mujahideen operative from the Banihal area of the district of Doda, was detained by troops of the 12 Rashtriya Rifles in a search operation on Sunday. He was brought to Jammu late on Monday night for interrogation by police and intelligence authorities.

According to Mohiuddin's preliminary questioning, carried out at the Joint Interrogation Centre in Jammu, he was assigned to the New Delhi operation by a Banihal area Hizb ul-Mujahideen commander, Abdul Hamid. Mohiuddin told his interrogators that his services were requisitioned by the Lashkar-e-Taiba, which said it needed someone familiar with the capital to aid an ongoing operation.

Agreed rendezvous in Delhi

Having left Jammu on the night of October 27, Mohiuddin reported the next morning at an agreed rendezvous, in front of the offices of the Delhi-Awantipura Transport Company in the capital's Sanjay Gandhi Transport Nagar. A one-time employee of a truck that plied the Delhi-Anantnag route, Mohiuddin chose the rendezvous as he was familiar with the neighbourhood.

On the morning of October 29, Mohiuddin was contacted at Awantipura Transport's office by three Lashkar operatives. He told interrogators that two of the men he met appeared to be ethnic Kashmiri; the third individual was Urdu-speaking. According to Mohiuddin, the group scouted crowded markets in New Delhi in a hired auto-rickshaw before finally leaving an explosive device in the Paharganj market. Mohiuddin said he was then given Rs. 20,000 as a reward and told to hide out for several days. He therefore travelled to Jodhpur before returning home.

Unanswered questions

There is no allegation that the transport company was in any way involved in Mohiuddin's operations. Staff at the office said their manager, Muhammad Iqbal, could alone answer questions whether Mohiuddin had visited the premises. However, he was away in Srinagar.

Sources close to the investigation told this correspondent that Mohiuddin's preliminary questioning left several key questions unanswered. Since the alleged Hizb-ul-Mujahideen operative claims he did not personally handle explosives, just why his services were requisitioned remains unclear. Neither have the possible links between the group Mohiuddin operated with and those that carried out the bombings of the Sarojini Nagar market and a Delhi Transport Corporation bus been established yet.

Carpet merchant, hawala conduit being questioned

Investigators are pursuing several other leads of potential significance. Intelligence officials in New Delhi are said to be investigating the possible role of a city-based carpet merchant, who served time in jail between 1991 and 1997 on terrorism charges. Mohammad Abdul Bandey, a Lashkar hawala conduit who was arrested on November 4, is also being questioned in Jammu.

"Given that more than one cell seems to have executed the bombings," an official told The Hindu , "an enormous amount of investigative work remains."

If Mohiuddin's custodial account of the Delhi operation proves accurate, it would underline the growing evidence that major jihadist groups in Jammu and Kashmir have been pooling resources to carry out terrorist strikes.

While the Jaish-e-Mohammad claimed responsibility for a recent car bombing in Srinagar, investigators have learned that the vehicle used in the strike was purchased by a Hizb operative. Several similar joint operations have been conducted since 2002.

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