HYDERABAD: Eleven years after a powerful bomb blast ripped through the historic Mecca Masjid in Hyderabad, the Special Court for National Investigation Agency (NIA) cases on Monday acquitted all the five accused citing lack of evidence, triggering a political slugfest what with the BJP and Congress trading barbs against each other while the MIM alleged ''biased investigation'' on the part of NIA.
An improvised Explosive device (IED) went off in the 'wazukhana' of the mosque which left nine dead and 56 injured. Five more persons died in the police firing soon after the bomb blast.
While Monday's verdict raised several questions about the credibility of the NIA -- which came under sharp attack from all opposition parties, the agency appeared to have relied mostly only on the confessional statements of the prime accused Nabakumar Sarkar alias Swamy Aseemanand and others, which ended up in the Court acquitting them citing lack of evidence.
Delivering its verdict in the case amid tight security both inside and outside the Nampally Criminal Courts Complex, the fourth additional metropolitan sessions-cum-special court for NIA cases acquitted all the five accused.
A total of 10 persons were named in the NIA charge sheet but only five of them faced trial. The judge, in just two minute judgment, said, "After carefully examining all the documents and materials placed before the court, it was found that all the allegations could not be proved on any of the accused. All the accused stand acquitted."
JP Sharma, counsel for Swamy Aseemanand, who was named as A1 (accused no 1) by the NIA, said "Prosecution questioned 226 persons in the case.''
Police sources associated with the investigation said that though it is a fact that they relied mostly on confessional statement of the accused, it was tough for any probe agency to get more solid evidence.
Earlier, Aseemanand had confessed that he along with others triggered blasts in Mecca Masjid, Samjhautha Express, Malegoan and Ajmer Shareef. However, months later, he retracted his statement and said that he was pressurised by the agencies to confess. "They (NIA) tortured Aseemanand and held him in their custody, and did not allow him to get legal aid,'' said Aseemanand's counsel Sharma.
When he got the legal aid in Hyderabad finally, he was taken to Ajmer, Malegaon and all other places where blasts had taken place. ''He was taken to Delhi to please their political bosses and took his confessional statement. This statement did not match with any of the evidence, and it is not admissible by the court. After receiving the full judgment copy, we will get to know more,'' Sharma said adding that ''saffron terror'' never existed.
With regard to another accused Bharath Mohanlal Rateshwar alias Bharath Bhai's role, the defence counsel said "For six years he was not framed in the case. When he did not cooperate with the police in Panchkula case, they have booked him in two other cases. People who face NIA had only two options. Either be an accused or be a witness. They (Investigators) forcibly took the confessions of the witnesses."
He further said "Prosecution alleges that the witnesses turned hostile, but they were telling truth, and the court believed them acquitting all the persons. The prosecution tried to get as much as documents and evidence against the alleged accused, but the court did not rely on them."
Meanwhile, NIA IG Alok Mittal said "The NIA will examine the judgment after we get a copy of the same and decide future course of action."
B Rajvardhan Reddy, the defence counsel alleged that the then chief investigating officer from the CBI T Raja Balaji had abruptly dropped the charges against 26 persons, who were suspected to be having links with terror outfit Harkat-Ul-Jihad Al Islami (HUJI) . ''Four of them even confessed to the blasts.''
The counsel said that four of the suspects picked up by the city police soon after registering cases at Hussaini Alam police station, were taken to Bengaluru for Narco analysis test and they confessed of executing the bomb blast.
"The investigating officer had told the court that he found them innocent to his satisfaction, but not to the court's satisfaction. He did not even mention anything about the first-spell of investigation done by the Andhra Pradesh police in the charge sheet," the defense counsel said.
''From November 26 to December 6, 2010, Aseemanand was taken into custody by the CBI, but they could not elicit any information. Again they took his custody from December 10 to December 18. Though the agency had three days time to bring him to Hyderabad from Delhi, he was forced to give a statement in the Delhi court," alleged Rajvardhan Reddy. JP Sharma, counsel of Aseemananda, said "Saffron terror never existed and will never happen."
JS Rana, another defence counsel said "During the initial probe it was detected that 10 kg RDX was brought to Hyderabad from Bangladesh and four persons admitted to placing the bombs in the masjid. Even after the admission of guilt, they were told as innocent to the court."
Soon after the investigators told the court that Swamy confessed to having committed the offence, the investigators linked him to Malegaon blasts of 2006 and 2008, Samjahuta Express blast, Ajmer blasts, alleged Rana.
"Just with the confession statement of Aseemananda, the word 'saffron terror' was coined and the concept was brought in," said Rana.