Police and prison officials have told The Hindu that there is no record of two Pakistani nationals the Lashkar-e-Taiba has claimed are illegally held in Indian prisons after being framed on terrorism charges.
Families of the three men — identified as Muhammad Irshad, Mohammad Zulfikar and Shahnawaz — met with journalists on Monday at a press conference organised by the Jama'at-ud-Dawa, the parent organisation of the Lashkar-e-Taiba. The press conference came days after India handed over a list of 48 terrorism-related suspects it says are hiding out in Pakistan.
Based on the testimony of his sibling Muhammad Khursheed, The Hindu reported on Monday that Mr. Irshad had been arrested in New Delhi in the wake of the Lashkar's December 22, 2000, attack on the Red Fort. Mr. Irshad, he said, was later “sentenced to death.” Mr. Khursheed claimed his brother had been legitimately visiting New Delhi for an information technology conference, “where he met and married a local.” “However, he did not get his visa renewed.”
Delhi Police officials, however, insisted no Pakistani national called Muhammad Irshad was either tried in connection with the Red Fort attack, or is currently held in Tihar jail. Police in New Delhi also say there is no Pakistani national called Mohammad Zulfikar currently in Tihar jail.
Prosecutors had filed charges against 11 suspects in the Red Fort attack, and named another 11 fugitives — three of whom were later killed in encounters, and a fourth arrested. The trial court convicted seven of those accused, of whom six were later acquitted by the Delhi High Court — among them, Pakistani national Muhammad Arif's Indian wife, Rehamana Yosuf Farooqui. Mr. Arif, also known as Ashfaq, was however sentenced to death. In August last year, the Supreme Court upheld Mr. Arif's sentence.
The third individual named by the Lashkar, though, is indeed where his relatives claimed — in Gujarat's Sabarmati jail, serving a life sentence. Mr Bhatti was arrested from the Haji Pir region of the Rann of Kutch in 2001, and sentenced to death on terrorism-related charges. The court, however, acquitted six Indian nationals on charges of harbouring Mr. Bhatti. The Gujarat High Court later reduced the sentence to life imprisonment.
Prosecutors said Mr. Bhatti had crossed the India-Pakistan border along with two other Lashkar operatives, using a boat to slip across the Rann of Kutch. The group, however, lost its way in the harsh desert. Mr. Bhatti's associates turned back, but died of dehydration. He, however, succeeded in making his way to a desert hamlet, where villagers revived the terrorist before handing him over to police.
Later, police say, Mr. Bhatti led authorities to a hidden cache of 28 kg of plastic explosive, two Kalashnikov assault rifles, timers and live ammunition. The cache was located after multiple sweeps over the Rann of Kutch by Border Security Force helicopters.
In 2008, Mr. Bhatti was also accused of obtaining a mobile inside prison, through former rape convict Nisar Rajwani. The phone, police have alleged, was used to call contacts in the Lashkar.