Ishrat Jahan link: Untold story of a J-K encounter

On the morning of June 28, 2004, about two weeks after 19-year-old Ishrat Jahan and three others were killed by Gujarat policemen in a fake encounter outside Ahmedabad, the Jammu & Kashmir Police shot dead two Pakistani men in Aastanpora on the outskirts of Srinagar city, allegedly after they tried to escape from police custody.

One of these two men, Shahid Mehmood, allegedly a commander of the Lashkar-e-Toiba, had been arrested two days earlier, on June 26, 2004.

In his confessional statement, Shahid Mehmood allegedly said that he had, after watching TV, identified one of the three men killed along with Ishrat as Amjad Ali alias Salim alias Babar, a Lashkar operative who had been trained by Lashkar's India operations commander Muzzamil for "executing plans" in this country.

This alleged disclosure by a man who was killed almost immediately after he made it is the only evidence that investigators have put forward to establish that the victims of the June 15, 2004 Gujarat encounter had links with the Lashkar, and that Amjad Ali was from Pakistan.

Related: 'I identified one of the militants whom I saw on TV as Babar'

In his alleged confession, Shahid Mehmood made no mention of Ishrat Jahan, Pranesh Pillai alias Javed Sheikh, or Zeeshan Johar the three others killed in the fake encounter. He made no reference to the alleged conspiracy to carry out attacks in Gujarat, or to target Chief Minister Narendra Modi.

According to the J&K Police, Shahid Mehmood and Zahid Hafiz, the other Pakistani man killed in Aastanpora on June 28, had put together an 18-man Lashkar module in Srinagar. None of these 18 men who were booked for providing logistic and other support to the two alleged LeT commanders mentioned either Ishrat or the others in their disclosure statements.

One man spoke of arranging a "secret hideout" for Babar (or Amjad Ali) at the behest of Mehmood, but he knew nothing more. None of the men made any reference to either Gujarat or Modi.

Most of these 18 men, booked under the Public Safety Act and locked away for about two-and-a- half years from mid-2004, were subsequently released on bail. They have been living normal lives for years now.

In his affidavit filed before the Gujarat High Court, R V S Mani, under secretary, Internal Security (VI) in the home ministry, said "two of the persons killed in the police encounter on 15-6-2004 were Pakistani nationals and it was known that they were sent by LeT to carry out terrorist actions in Gujarat".

"One of the killed LeT cadre was Amjad Ali@Babar@Salim. J&K Police arrested June 25-28, a group of 18 LeT terrorists headed by the chief operational commander for central Kashmir Shahid Mehmood and his Pakistani associate Zahid Ahmad. In their disclosures, they mentioned that Amjad Ali@Babbar@Salim had entered India under express instructions from Muzzamil for organizing terrorist networks," Mani said.

Parikshita Gurjar, ACP (Mahila), Ahmedabad City, who initially probed the encounter and found it to be "genuine", said in her affidavit to the court: "...Investigation by Kashmir Police has established that Salim@Babbar@Amjad Ali was Pakistani terrorist and an associate of Aby Osama (killed in an encounter with Kashmir Police) and was dispatched to Ahmedabad by Muzzamil for VIP target..."

"As per the investigations of Kashmir Police, (he) stayed at the residence of Maulvi Abdul Aziz and... Bashir Ahmad Beg, both residents of Srinagar. These accommodations were arranged by LeT operatives namely Mazid Hussain and Parvez alias Khalid... All this clearly proves that Ishrat was an active associate of Javed (Sheikh) and Salim", Gurjar said.

The J&K Police, which initially claimed to have busted a "Lashkar module" and talked about the "connections of this module" with the "two suspected LeT operatives who were gunned down in Ahmedabad on June 15 (2004)", went quiet as more and more questions started to be raised about the encounter.

Sources said the J&K Police did not allow a Gujarat Police team that had travelled to Kashmir to take custody of four of the 18 members of the "Lashkar module" who, according to the J&K Police, had sheltered Amjad Ali.

The Gujarat policemen were allowed to question three of these men, but were refused their custody, the sources said.

A senior officer involved closely with the case articulated the apprehensions that the J&K Police had at the time: "Another fake encounter would have been impossible to handle. We knew that these men had no information. They were also all local Kashmiris, and had they been killed, it would have become impossible to defend."

Another officer who was posted in Srinagar in June 2004 described a degree of agitation in the J&K Police after the Ishrat encounter.

"I remember a senior officer calling up someone in Gujarat Police saying, why did you kill a woman? It is going to expose the entire thing," the officer said. "If they had only bumped off the men, nobody would have questioned it. The two men killed in Srinagar were Pakistanis, so nobody raised a hue and cry."

Nine years after the two encounters in Gujarat and Kashmir, it remains unclear how, when and where the two men killed along with Ishrat and Javed Sheikh identified as Pakistani Lashkar militants Amjad Ali Rana alias Salim alias Babar, and Zeeshan Johar alias Janbaaz were arrested.

The J&K Police did not even investigate Mehmood's alleged disclosure to establish whether the man identified as Amjad Ali Rana was in fact Babar.

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