New Delhi // The judge who acquitted two Indian men accused of providing logistical support to militants during the 2008 Mumbai attacks suggested that police fabricated evidence against the pair, a practice rights activists claim is widespread in terrorism cases in India.
After finding Mohammed Ajmal Kasab guilty for his involvement in the commando-style attack that left 166 people dead, judge ML Tahaliyani said that the hand-drawn maps of the city the men had been accused of supplying to the attackers were "unreliable" and "highly doubtful". "The terrorists were relying on sophisticated GPS systems and satellite phones. Why would have they have needed such crude hand-drawn maps for guidance?" said the judge to the public prosecutor while acquitting Fahim Ansari and Sabauddin Ahmed. "Your 'map theory' did not fit the conspiracy."
Following the attacks, investigators believed that Kasab and the nine other gunmen could not have carried out the operation without assistance from collaborators inside India. In his decision, Judge Tahaliyani said that after constructing the theory, police sought - and even falsified - evidence to support it, rather than building one from the available evidence. S R Darapuri, a former inspector general of the Uttar Pradesh police who now works as a human rights activist and author, said that there are hundreds of instances of police faking evidence against innocent people in terrorism cases across India. Following a 2007 blast in hyderabad, "dozens of Muslim young men were arrested and sent to jail as suspects. They were brutally tortured, an inquiry commissions found. But next year the local court found that all the accused were innocent and police had fabricated the evidences in the cases", Mr Darapuri said.
"The Bombay police cooked up a theory of internal complicity in 26/11 attack and that inevitably would have to be involving Muslims, as has been the majority belief in India," Mr Darapuri said. "In order to prove this theory they implicated Ansari and Sabauddin and fabricated false witnesses and evidences against them which could not withstand the scrutiny of the court." Mr Ansari and Mr Ahmed had already been in jail since February 2008 after being accused of involvement in a 2007 attack on a paramilitary camp in the northern state.
A few weeks after the Mumbai attacks, in December 2008, the pair were questioned in jail and brought to Mumbai. The police claimed that the two were "very important functionaries" of Lashkar-i-Taiba (LiT), the Pakistan-based group accused of masterminding the attacks. In the charge-sheet in the case, police claimed that Mr Ansari and Mr Ahmed were the Indian collaborators of the attack they had previously said must exist. They alleged Mr Ansari had drawn "detailed maps" of the areas of Mumbai where the gunmen later struck, and travelled to Kathmandu in January 2008 to hand them over to Mr Ahmed, who forwarded them the LiT "masterminds".
In support of their claims, the Mumbai police presented one of the maps to the court during the trial and claimed that it had been recovered from the trouser pocket of Abu Ismail, one of the nine killed gunmen. While police described the hand-drawn maps the "key evidence" against the Indian "collaborators", Judge Tahaliyani dismissed the evidence. The prosecution did not have any "quantitative as well as qualitative" evidence to prove that Mr Ansari made the maps and handed them over to Mr Ahmed in Nepal, he said.
The judge added that the ink used for the entry of the map on the police register of recovered evidence against Abu Ismail, was a different colour from the ink used in listing other pieces of evidence. The judge also asked rhetorically why not a single drop of blood was found on the map when the police claimed they had recovered it from Ismail's trousers, which were drenched in his blood. "[The terrorists] travelled for days [by sea, from Karachi], but the map was in good condition, without any wrinkle on it ? I feel the whole theory of the map being given by Ansari to Ahmed in Nepal and then the crude map being found unsoiled in Ismail's trousers is unbelievable ?. Why would LiT commanders use crude maps when sophisticated versions of the same were easily available on websites like Google Earth and Wikimapia?" the judge asked.
On Monday, after suggestions were made that the police produced the maps themselves and that they had no connection with the Mumbai gunmen or Ansari and Sabauddin, the special public prosecutor in the case, Ujjwal Nikam, looked visibly stunned. He vowed, however, to appeal the judge's verdict and seek a conviction in a higher court. @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org