For the past four years, two youngsters have been languishing in jail for what looks like a major goof-up by the Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS).
The ATS had arrested Sharif Thakkar (30) and Mohammed Kumlakh (30) in November 2010 allegedly for planning to bomb several vital installations in the city. The ATS had announced the arrest of the two with a lot of fanfare. In fact, it said it arrested the two from Jammu and Kashmir with links to Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) after laying a trap.
On Thursday, the ATS informed the special Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) court that it has no evidence to substantiate the charges and will not pursue terror charges against the duo. The ATS' inability to trace two Kashmiri witnesses who deposed against the accused put it on weak ground.
At the time of the arrest, the ATS had claimed Thakkar (30) and Kumlakh possessed two firearms. So, the two would now be charged under the Arms Act.
Here again, there's a catch. Even if the two are convicted under the Arms Act, the maximum punishment is three years. But they have already spent close to four years in jail as undertrials.
Advocate Shariff Shaikh, who appeared on behalf of Thakkar, wondered why the ATS took four years to inform the court that they did not have any evidence to prove that the two were linked to a terrorist organisation.
Once the judgement is delivered, Shaikh plans to move the court to seek compensation from the state.
Defence advocate Rajendra Bidkar, who appeared for Kumlakh, said, "Right from the time the ATS arrested the two, they came up with several theories. The first was that the two came to Mumbai to recce some important places to carry out blasts. However, the prosecution had no evidence to prove that they were in Mumbai to disturb the city's atmosphere.
"The next theory was that the two were in constant touch with an alleged terrorist named Kara, lodged in a Kashmir prison and that they were sketching the terrorists' plans to disturb Mumbai. But the Kashmir prison claimed that Kara is a rape convict and not arrested under terrorist Act," Bidkar said.
The final theory of the ATS, Bidkar said, was also a flop.
"At the time of the arrest of the two, the ATS had claimed that they had recorded the statement of two youths who claimed that the accused were planning to send them to Pakistan for training in terrorist activities. However, at no point in time, ATS officials were able to bring the two witnesses before the court. At no point, ATS had evidence to support its claim that the accused were linked to a terrorist organisation," added Bidkar.
An ATS official said on conditions of anonymity, "We had brought on record the entire evidence in the case. However, the two Kashmiri witnesses, who had testified against the accused at the time of the arrest, are untraceable."