MUMBAI, September 22: In what could prove to be a major embarrassment to the Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS), a sting operation by journalist Ashish Khetan has revealed that key prosecution witnesses in the 2010 Pune German Bakery blast case were tutored, coaxed and pressured to give statements against convict Himayat Baig.
“There are three counts on which Baig was awarded the death sentence by the Pune Sessions Court – RDX was recovered from his residence, he was of jehadi mindset and was seen in Pune with Yasin Bhatkal on the day of the blast. The testimonies of the prosecution witnesses played a key role in this. Our expose shows how their statements were extracted under duress. Also they were tutored on their testimonies by ATS officers,” said Ashish Khetan, editor, Gulail, at a press conference in Mumbai.
Top Indian Mujahideen (IM) leader Yasin Bhatkal, who was arrested at the India-Nepal border last month, had told his interrogators that Baig was not involved in the bakery blast. He claimed that it was he and another IM operative, Qatil Siddhique, who planned and executed the attack. He said explosives were sourced and assembled locally.
The ATS had claimed that Bhatkal procured explosives from Mumbai and that he and Baig prepared the bombs in a cybercafé owned by the latter in Udgir and they travelled in a State transport bus on February 13 morning and carried out the attack.
S Nazir Ateeq, a prosecution witnesses, is seen claiming in the sting operation that when he deposed before the court to testify that Baig was with him in Aurangabad on February 13 and not in Pune as claimed by the ATS, his testimony was not recorded and he was declared a hostile witness by the court.
All the prosecution witnesses filmed by Khetan, using a hidden camera, are seen narrating same stories of torture and brutality that they were subjected to by junior rank ATS officers of the Pune team. They also claimed that the officers tutored them on their depositions.
“We were kept in a lodge where policemen tutored us on how to depose. Two days before my deposition I was produced before the ATS DIG Sanjay Latkar, who posed as a lawyer and asked me questions. They told me to say that Baig was a jehadi and always spoke about taking revenge on what happened to Muslims in Gujarat and Mumbai riots. When I said Baig was not a jehadi, Latkar got angry. He reprimanded his juniors for not ‘tutoring’ me properly,” said Gaur Sheikh, another witness.
Mr. Khetan claims that on Friday morning he got a message from Sheikh, who said that ATS officers had visited his home in Udgir and inquired if he had spoken to a ‘stranger.’ They had warned him not to speak to anyone on the case.
When The Hindu tried to contact ATS chief Rakesh Maria on his reaction to the sting operation, he was unavailable for comments. But officials in the ATS, on the condition of anonymity, told this paper that they have sufficient evidence against Baig and that he was convicted by the court, which has relied on their evidence.
“Many of the witnesses had recorded their statements under 164 of the Criminal Procedure Code (Cr Pc). If we had pressured them, they could have said the same in their confessions. They all have confessed before the court. The allegation of we tutoring them is completely baseless,” said an officer.
“We have sufficient evidence against Baig. We were the first to expose the LeT-IM nexus. Baig used to work for LeT operative Faiyaz Kagzi, who was his recruiter and also the link between the IM and the LeT. Kagzi is one of the wanted accused in the case,” added the officer.
On September 23, Baig’s death confirmation plea will come up for hearing in the Bombay High Court. Khetan claims he will move an application before the court to take cognisance of the sting operation and reopen the case.
Earlier this week, State Home Minister R.R. Patil refused to reopen the case, claiming that he was sentenced by a court and, therefore, there was no fresh need to reinvestigate the case.