The Mumbai Police on Friday claimed to have cracked the August 25, 2003 twin blasts case with the arrest of four persons.
The arrested include three persons from one family -- Syed Mohammad Hanif, 42; his wife Syed Fahmida Mohammand Hanif, 36; and daughter Syed Farheen Mohammad Hanif, 18.
These three, along with Hanif's three-year-old daughter, had hired the taxi that was blown up at the Gateway of India.
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The police have handed over the three-year-old daughter to her grandmother. It was the description provided by the taxi driver, who survived the blast, that helped the police find the suspects. The taxi driver, Shivnarayan Pande, is now being provided police protection.
The fourth arrested, Arshad Shafique Mohammad Ansari, 27, had hired the second taxi that blew up at Zaveri Bazar, killing the driver.
The police are still on the lookout for two more suspects and are confident of picking them up soon.
This same outfit had also attempted to carry out a blast at SEEPZ (Santa Cruz Electronics Export Processing Zone) last year, but the explosive device failed.
With the arrests, the police are clearly heaving a sigh of relief and are proud of having cracked the case in a week's time. The media turned up in huge numbers when the police called the press conference, held in the office of Mumbai Police Commissioner R S Sharma. Displayed on his huge table were gelatin sticks, alarm clocks, binding tape and shrapnel, all used by the Hanif group to make their bombs.
Maharashtra Deputy Chief Minister Chhagan Bhujbal announced the arrests of the four suspects, and praised the police Crime Branch for their success. Crime Branch Unit 11 and Unit 9 were mainly responsible for cracking the case.
Said a senior police officer, "We arrested them a couple of days ago, but we made sure that they were the right people before calling this press conference," he said, and added testily, "Otherwise, the media will be the first to castigate us."
Asked if it did not amount to intelligence failure that this group was not arrested after the Ghatkopar blast, he said the reason was that after Ghatkopar, there was just no description of the couple who had boarded the bus. "The police also need some clues when looking for people. This time, we were lucky to get a good description from the taxi driver and our men did the rest of the work," he said.
THE arrests and interrogation of the four culprits has thrown light and revealed the politicised statements made earlier. The four arrested have no connection with any local outfit. When specifically asked whether SIMI (Students Muslim Organization of India) was involved, Bhujbal said, "No." Then he added, "So far."
But while the involvement of local jihadi groups is being ruled out, the police were categorical in bringing to light the international links. They pointed out that Hanif, who is clearly the mastermind and key agent of the blast, was employed at the Hilton Hotel in Dubai as an electrician.
The police said that after the Gujarat riots, he was 'indoctrinated' in Dubai and returned to India on September 14, 2002, with the intention of carrying out terrorist acts. On his return to India, Hanif contacted Ashraf and the duo began carrying out the explosions, supported by Hanif's wife and grown-up daughter.
When asked who indoctrinated him, the police were unwilling to give a name or even a hint. But the aforementioned officer said that as per their information, they believe that the Dubai centre that 'indoctrinated' Hanif received instructions from an outfit in Saudi Arabia, which in turn was commanded by an outfit in Pakistan.
This officer said the involvement of the Lashkar-e-Tayiba was not ruled out, just that it was more roundabout.
But what stands punctured is the so-called link between the Lashkar and SIMI, a link that had political overtones.
ASHRAF told the police that they had formed the Gujarat Muslim Revenge Force to avenge the killings of Muslim during the Gujarat riots of early 2002. Ashraf is a zari (embroidery) worker, based in Surat, southern Gujarat.
But while the Gujarat riots affected Ahmedabad, Vadodara and central Gujarat, Surat was peaceful. So on what basis did Ashraf claim to be affected?
A second senior officer told rediff.com that when Ashraf was questioned why Mumbai is being targeted if the motive is revenge for Gujarat, he apparently replied, "Because the rich supporters of the Gujarat government are all based in Mumbai."
But a third senior police officer said in the final analysis, Gujarat was merely the fig leaf cover. "Gujarat today is being blamed for everything," he said, "It is too simple to assume that the only motive is Gujarat. It is like saying that if Gujarat did not happen then these blasts would not take place. But we know that would not be the case. These blasts are going to occur because the motive is far bigger."
There has been the perception that the Gujarat revenge motive is being played to the hilt. When the blast occurred, Bhujbal's first reaction then was to blame the blasts on Gujarat. Reason: all the blasts had occurred in Gujarati-dominated areas such as Ghatkopar and Zaveri Bazar. The Gateway of India is an international symbol and a favourite tourist spot.
But as the police revealed, the explosive for the Ghatkopar blast was placed inside the bus at Andheri East, from where the bus begins its run, and timed to explode later. It was just a coincidence that it happened to be Ghatkopar. And Zaveri Bazar is one of Mumbai's most important commercial areas, and an extremely congested and busy area, where it is easy to slip in and out without anyone noticing.
The police also said that the explosives were prepared at the residences of Hanif in Andheri West (northwestern Mumbai) and Ashraf in Andheri East (northwestern Mumbai). The two, who lived in poor tenements, made the explosives from gelatin sticks that are available locally since gelatin is used for quarrying and other controlled blasts.
There is as yet no indication that RDX was used.
Asked about the use of RDX, Joint Commissioner of Police Dr Satyapal Singh said the police are still awaiting the report from the Central Forensic Laboratory of India, Chandigarh, and which would be considered final.
The police said that Hanif originally hails from the Mangalore region (southwestern India) while Arshad hails from the Bars Bareily district in Uttar Pradesh.