Hyderabad blasts: How investigators are feeling their way for answers

The CCTV footage from the camera of a shop in Dilsukhnagar shows a man with a bicycle with a container parking it near Anand Tiffin shop. But just as the video forensics team gets excited about seeing the man who they think planted the bomb, they notice his bicycle has a bell. They scratch their head looking at the photograph of the bicycle at the blast site. That cycle did not have a bell. They look closely again, moving the footage frame by frame, wondering if it is the glare that is creating the illusion of a bell.

They have an issue with the bicycle seat's rexine cover as well. They are not hundred per cent sure if the seat's colour in the footage and the bicycle used in the blast is the same.A little while later, in another part of the footage, they see a man who resembles the person with the bicycle, walking away. The bicycle isn't there but they cannot be certain it is the same man because the footage in this part has unfortunately turned black and white.This is just an example of the kind of painstaking effort that is going into analysing the mediocre quality CCTV footage procured from different shops around the blast sites. If only the Hyderabad and Cyberabad police had bothered to check the quality of these CCTVs by examining old footage when the first intelligence alerts came in November 2012 that terrorists had done a recce of five areas in Hyderabad, including Dilsukhnagar.

Looking a needle in a blast site. AP

Looking a needle in a blast site. AP

The CCTV footage in its present form is unlikely to lead the investigators anywhere. It has to be enhanced several times over, a laborious task that will take time. The police has collected several terabytes of footage and the video forensics team of the National Investigation Agency (NIA), which is yet to formally take charge of the case, will have to analyse every image, frame by frame.

If you think this is like looking for a needle in a haystack, there is more. The sleuths will also look at CCTV footage of ticket booking windows at bus stations and railway stations to check if any person spotted in Dilsukhnagar is also seen making an entry into Hyderabad some time before Thursday.

"It is a big challenge. There is a long way to go,'' says a senior police officer, who has a track record in cracking terror cases.

Another officer added, "At the moment, there is no breakthrough. There are no specific leads.''Here is what the sleuths know so far. An old milk can like aluminium container was used to pack the bomb. In all, roughly 4 kg of ammonium nitrate was used, 2 kg in each location. They are also reasonably certain two different planters did the job of parking the bicycles and walking away. Timers were used in both bombs but they have not been found at the blast site. The theory is that the digital clock timers were put inside the container and they melted and were completely destroyed in the blast.The sleuths are trying to locate which dealer the old bicycles were bought from. Small hotels and lodges in the area have also been checked to see if anyone suspicious checked out around the time of the blast. Technical electronic evidence from cellphone towers is also being analysed to see if there is some pattern in phone calls made to people in the area before and after 7 pm on Thursday. Teams have also fanned out to check out certain individuals lodged in jails in Hyderabad and locations in Maharashtra.

The sleuths are trying to reconstruct the crime scene with the help of forensic evidence they have collected. Its quality is not up to the mark they desire thanks to the inability of the local cops to immediately cordon off the area and keep it sterile.

The regret also is that this was a terror attack that could have been prevented. Especially when apart from the Home ministry's generic alerts, the state police's own Counter Intelligence (CI) Cell had issued an alert to the city police after 2001 Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru's execution. The CI cell's alert was based on intercepts of phone conversations and text messages, that apparently indicated the possibility of an attack.

"Ever since the controversy over the Bhagyalaxmi temple that abuts the Charminar in November, the atmosphere has been surcharged in several pockets of Hyderabad. Many of us subconsciously felt something will take place to take advantage of the communal tension,'' said a senior officer, who is now posted in Hyderabad police.

If the officer's sixth sense had guided his colleagues to step up the vigil, Hyderabad might not have lost 16 precious lives.

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