CBI charge sheet raises questions on role of Central intelligence czars in alleged execution

Ten years after Maharashtra resident Ishrat Jahan Raza was shot dead by police on an Ahmedabad street, questions are being raised about the role that key figures in the Union government’s intelligence establishment may have had in the killing.

The Central Bureau of Investigation on Wednesday charged the then station chief of the Intelligence Bureau, Rajinder Kumar, with murder —the first indictment of an Indian intelligence officer for an extra-judicial execution.

Ishrat, along with Pune resident Javed Sheikh, and alleged Pakistani Lashkar-e-Taiba operatives Zeeshan Johar and Amjad Ali Rana, was shot dead on June 15, 2004.

New Delhi has admitted it provided intelligence that the four were involved in a terrorist plot, but insists that the decision to execute the killing was taken by the Gujarat government. “No one suggested that based on an intelligence input you should kill someone,” the then Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram said in 2009.

Mr. Kumar’s prosecution, though, raises questions on just what his superiors actually knew: among them, the then Intelligence Bureau Director, K.P. Singh, and his deputy in charge of counter-terrorism, Nehchal Sandhu, and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s internal security czar, M.K. Narayanan.

None of the men has ever been questioned, nor have official records of intelligence communications been summoned. A senior CBI official told The Hindu, “Frankly, no one wants to look more, because we’re scared of what we might find.”

In documents filed by the CBI in an Ahmedabad court, investigators said the Intelligence Bureau was led to an alleged Lashkar-e-Taiba plot to kill Hindu nationalist politicians by two agents it identifies as C1 and C2. The two men, highly placed intelligence sources earlier told The Hindu, were recruited through a chain of leads that began to be developed in February 2004, after the killing of Lashkar-e-Taiba operative Ehsan Illahi in Kashmir.

The Intelligence Bureau, the sources said, used C1 and C2, to contact Muzammil Bhat — an alleged 26/11 perpetrator who is alleged to have been tasked with the hands-on conduct of military operations.

Late in April 2005, Bhat despatched Jeeshan Johar, identified by the police as a resident of Pakistan’s Gujaranwala district, to Ahmedabad. He was held by Mr. Kumar on his arrival in the city, the CBI has alleged, and made to continue communicating with the Lashkar leadership as if the plot remained in play.

The ploy led to the arrival of Amjad Ali Rana, believed to be a resident of Pakistan’s Sargodha, on June 15. Rana was held, the CBI says, in illegal custody on a farm outside Ahmedabad, and questioned by the Intelligence Bureau.

Finally, the CBI says, Pune resident Javed Sheikh and his friend Ishrat were held on their arrival at the Valsad toll booth on June 12, 2004. Police and intelligence officers, it alleges, held the two for three days, before shooting both along with the Pakistani Lashkar operatives

Little evidence has emerged of the plot the four are alleged to have been involved in, with the CBI saying it was not part of its mandate to investigate the question.

In testimony to the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, 26/11 perpetrator David Headley claimed Lashkar operations chief Zaki-ur-Rahman Lakhvi had told him of a “female suicide bomber named Ishrat Jahaan [sic].” “Zaki,” Headley went on, “mentioned Muzammil’s plans to attack Akshardham temple, Somnath and Siddhi temples.”

The families of Sheikh and Ishrat, though, have long said neither had any connections with terrorism.