Mumbai/ New Delhi: Sparks flew as BJP and the Congress on Thursday began a war of words after terrorist-turned-approver David Coleman Headley's court deposition that Ishrat Jahan -- shot dead in a shootout along with three others in 2004 -- was a Laskhar-e-Taiba operative. Ishrat, who was from Mumbra in Mumbai, was shot dead along with three men in Gujarat 12 years ago by police officers who claimed Ishrat and group were terrorists involved in a plot to kill Narendra Modi, then Chief Minister.
While the Bharatiya Janata Party demanded an apology from Congress president Sonia Gandhi and vice president Rahul Gandhi, the Opposition questioned attempts to justify the "fake" Ishrat Jahan encounter which it said was "not permissible by law".
Ishrat, a 19-year-old college student, Pranesh Pillai alias Javed Gulam Sheikh, Amjad Ali Rana and Zeeshan Johar were killed on Ahmedabad's outskirts in an alleged shootout with the police on June 15, 2004.
The police claimed that the four were LeT operatives plotting to assassinate then Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi.
"Jahan was an LeT member," Pakistani-American Headley said in his sensational disclosure while deposing before Special TADA Court Judge A. Sanap in Mumbai via video-conferencing from a US jail on Thursday.
Headley said the 2008 Mumbai attack mastermind Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi told him about "a botched up operation in India" of shooting at the police at a check-post in Gujarat.
An LeT woman operative was involved, Headley said while identifying her as Thane college student Ishrat Jahan out of the three names offered by Special Public Prosecutor Ujjwal Nikam -- Noorjehan Begum, Ishrat Jahan and Mumtaz Begum.
BJP leader Shrikant Sharma said in Delhi that Sonia and Rahul Gandhi should tender an apology following Headley's testimony.
"These Congress leaders should apologise to the nation and to the heroes who killed LeT terrorist Ishrat Jahan and her three accomplices," he said.
"Instead of praising the brave policemen, questions were raised on their sincerity and they were put behind bars. Now the mask has come off their faces," Sharma said.
He said the Congress hatched a conspiracy to politicise terror in order to defame the Bharatiya Janata Party and Modi.
On the other hand, Congress spokesperson Manish Tewari questioned the attempts to use Headley's testimony to justify the "fake" shootout.
He said if the government wants to investigate further if Jahan and her accomplices were Lashkar-e-Taiba operatives or not, there is nothing which stops it.
"But the fundamental question remains: Whether Ishrat and her accomplices were killed in a fake encounter or not?" Tewari added.
Tewari said even if a person is a terrorist, he needs to be arrested and needs to be brought to justice like Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru.
"But to try and justify a fake encounter, I am afraid, is something which the law does not permit," the Congress leader said.
Headley's earlier testimony before a National Investigation Agency team in 2011 in the US claimed Jahan was a Lashkar terrorist.
Ujjwal Nikam, Ishrat Jahan's lawyer lock horns
Special Public Prosecutor Ujjwal Nikam on Monday downplayed Ishrat Jahan's lawyer Vrinda Grover's criticism that David Coleman Headley's version was not evidence as per Indian law as he was given a 'multiple choice question' by a 'Padma Shri' lawyer, saying that he posed the question based on information received from the concerned intelligence agencies.
"You might have noted that when I put this question to David Headley, then I was very clear that how many wings were operating in Lashkar and David Headley had clearly said that there was a women wing, finance wing as well as the overall militant operation wing then I did ask that who was the in-charge of the women wing. So, there was no question at all which would lead David Headley to say a particular answer," Nikam told the media.
"When he had categorically said that Muzammil Bhat told him and he also said that as to why Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhavi was upset and annoyed by his botched operation. And, therefore, I did ask him how you came to know about that botched operation. Then he told that Muzammil Bhat told me that this had happened. In fact, I did not put any particular name of the woman attacker of LeT and in fact I had given in all fairness various options which I came to know from our investigating officers. And, therefore, I put three, four names; out of which, Headley selected one name," he added.
Nikam said the NIA has already made investigations in this respect.
"I am not aware as to what David Headley told the NIA. I am only supposed to interrogate David Headley on oath and I had discharged my duty," he added.
Ishrat Jahan's lawyer has said that certain questions have been put to Headley by the prosecutor, which have nothing to do with the 26/11 case.
"I don't know why suddenly these questions were put. They can have a political relevance, but they can have no relevance to 26/11.The public prosecutor in a procedure which is wrong and illegal in law gives a multiple choice question to a witness and says 'now I will give you three names you select one name which will be that female LeT person'," said Grover.
"He gives this three multiple choices and he says 'Noor Begum, Ishrat Jahan and Mumtaz'. He (Headley) selects Ishrat Jahan. This is double hearsay and he is saying I have no personal knowledge," Grover added.
Grover said, "We were told that there was an encounter on the outskirts of Ahmedabad in June 2004in which Ishrat Jahan - a young girl from a very poor family of Mumbra was found dead - and we were told that these were terrorists. That matter came up for investigation because her mother said my daughter is not a terrorist and she filed a petition in the Gujarat High Court. The Gujarat High Court after many years of our pursuance they investigated the matter. There was a Special Investigation Team set up by the Gujarat High Court."
"The investigation said this was a fake encounter, these people had been taken into illegal custody by the police, they were detained and then they were killed in cold-blood and the whole thing was a staged encounter. After that the CBI also investigated into it and found that it was a cold-blooded murder. Chargesheets were filed and they are pending in the Gujarat court against senior police officials of Gujarat as well as the IB officers that this was a larger criminal conspiracy," she added.
Grover said investigation and the witnesses clearly point to political people who were behind this conspiracy in this case.
"For reasons best known to the CBI, the investigation was abruptly closed and that line of investigation was not taken further," Grover said.
IANS & ANI