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Leaked NIA document indicates cover up in Ishrat Jahan case

New documents obtained by Firstpost show the union government has suppressed testimony that slain Mumbai resident Ishrat Jehan Raza may have been an Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorist.   In an 13 October, 2010, note, the National Investigations Agency said Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorist David Coleman Headley had told them Ishrat Jehan had been part of a “botched” operation run by the terrorist group.  Later, though, mention of this revelation was removed from a 117 page record of the 26/11 surveillance agent’s interrogation released to media.

Highly placed government sources have told Firstpost that the note was found on file on July 5, when it was called for by Union Home Affairs Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde.  It was also shown to members of the Congress Core Group, including Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

The government is yet to respond to calls from both the Bharatiya Janata Party, and top Congress leader Digvijaya Singh, to place what it knows about Ishrat Jehan’s background on record.

NIA Ishrat Jehan-Headley Note

[Download 117 page interrogation report]

The NIA document reveals Headley had mentioned Ishrat Jahan. Image courtesy: Ibnlive

The NIA document reveals Headley had mentioned Ishrat Jahan. Image courtesy: Ibnlive

Central Bureau of Investigations officials have said they are investigating the wider context and motives behind the alleged murder of Ishrat Jehan and three men, for which it has charged several Gujarat Police officers.  It is unclear if the CBI has so far been given access to the UO—a form of unsigned letter different wings of the government use to communicate with each other, without committing themselves to a binding position. It is, however, marked with a traceable file reference—standard practice in the government.

First revealed to exist by The Hindustan Times earlier this month, the revelation of the text of the note raises several key questions.

The NIA note has little relevance to the murder investigation—but does raise questions about whether the government suppressed information on Ishrat Jehan’s possible background, sensitive to the political fallout.

Its revelation also raises the question of what then-Union Home Minister P Chidambaram knew about the case—and what role, if any, he had in excising the information from the 117-page publicly-released interrogation.  Chidambaram has refused to discuss the issue, though in September, 2009, he had apparently sought to distance his Ministry from the brewing controversy over the killings.  The home ministry also withdrew an affidavit describing the Ishrat Jehan and the three men slain with her as terrorists, replacing it with a more cautiously-worded document.

Lawyers for the victims have argued that there are contradictions in the timeline involving Headley’s reported conversation on Ishrat with Zaki-ur-Rahman.  In  Para 15, p35, of the NIA report, Headley says he went for his first training with the Lashkar in February, 2002. Later, in para 16, p36, Headley says he went for further training in August, 2002.  Finally, in Para 17, p36, he says he was introduced to Muzammil some time during this year”.

Three years later, according to the NIA, he was again introduced to Muzammil—this time, by their common boss, Zaki-ur-Rahman.

It’s not immediately apparent, though, why two introductions—three years apart, and once as a Lashkar rank-and-file trainee, the second time as 26/11 plotter—constitute a contradiction.

Lawyers and family of Ishrat Jehan have, for their part, repeatedly denied she had any connections with the Lashkar-e-Taiba or terrorism, and slammed the media for defaming the dead teenager.

Top officials have muddied the waters with a series of apparently contradictory statements.  Earlier this week, then-home secretary GK Pillai said that “from the evidence I had seen, it cannot be said whether she was a willing accomplice of [alleged terrorist, and fellow encounter victim] Javed Sheikh  or used as a cover by him. I would be willing to give her the benefit of the doubt”.

In November, 2011, though, Pillai had sparked off a furore by asserting that Ishrat Jehan was indeed a terrorism suspect.  He recalled that the Lashkar-e-Toiba website had described her as a martyr. He also controversially noted that “Ishrat used to live with another man in different hotels, which definitely was suspicious”.

Pillai, now in retirement but being considered for appointment as Governor of Manipur, declined to discuss the issue with Firstpost.

Earlier this month, Firstpost exclusively revealed that the United States’ Federal Bureau of Investigations had told the Ministry of Home Affairs about Headley’s claims on a “female suicide bomber named Ishrat Jahaan [sic].” “Zaki,” Headley went on, “mentioned Muzammil’s plans to attack Akshardham temple, Somnath and Siddhi temples. These attacks were revenge for the 1988 attack on the mosque in Yuppe [sic, the 1992 demolition of the Babri Masjid in Uttar Pradesh]”.