Evidence in Delhi Embassy Bombing Suggests Journalist Was Framed

Part 1*

IPS  — New Delhi police officials have released hundreds of pages of documents from their investigation into the February 13 bombing of an Israeli Embassy car. The documents aimed to show that a well-known Indian Muslim journalist aided an Iranian conspiracy to plan and carry out the bombing.

But a review by IPS of the evidence filed in the case suggests that the Indian journalist accused in the case has been framed by the police, at least in part to implicate the Iranians in the terror plot.

The “charge sheet” on the embassy car bombing filed by the “Special Cell” (SC) of the Delhi police July 31 claims Indian journalist Syed Mohommed Ahmad Kazmi confessed to helping officials from Iran plan the bombing plot in return for payments totalling 5,500 U.S. dollars.

It also says that a moped used for reconnaissance by the Iranian said to have carried out the bombing was found in Kazmi’s residence and that forensic bomb-making evidence was discovered in the hotel room of that same Iranian.

But an analysis of the documentation included in the filing reveals that the evidence is highly questionable.

The SC has a long history of cases against alleged terrorists that were rejected by the court as involving framing people and planting false evidence.

Kazmi is an unlikely candidate for participation in an Iranian terrorist plot. A 50-year-old senior Indian journalist, he had his own web-based news service, a regular job as a columnist for the leading Urdu-language weekly and a retainer as Urdu newscaster for India’s state-owned television channel Doordarshan.

He did not need the 5,500 U.S. dollars police claim he received for helping the Iranians plan the bombing. Nor did he need the 2.26 million rupees (40,000 U.S. dollars) in foreign remittances that Delhi police chief B. K. Gupta asserted in a press conference in mid-March that the journalist and his wife had received in their bank accounts. Gupta declared that Kazmi and his wife had been “unable to explain” those remittances.

But Kazmi’s family has produced bank documents showing that the remittances had come from relatives in the UK and Singapore in 2009 and 2010. Furthermore, the “Economic Directorate” of the Indian Police assigned to investigate the remittances could find nothing incriminating in them, the Indian press has reported.

A more serious problem with the SC case is that it depends heavily on Kazmi’s alleged confession of guilt. That confession, consisting of five separate statements between March. 6 and 24, is inadmissible as evidence under Indian law on the assumption that police will inevitably coerce those in their custody to make confessions.

Kazmi has denounced all the “disclosure statements” attributed to him as false. He charged in a handwritten petition to the court April 16 that the SC had coerced him into providing his signature on blank pages. He said the police threatened his family with “dire consequences” if he did not do as they directed.

Except for the very first “disclosure statement” dated March 6, all of them are followed by the handwritten notation “Accused refused to sign”.

Most of the five “disclosures” were clearly written by the Special Cell in order to implicate both Kazmi and three Iranians in the bombing plot. The disclosures make Kazmi appear eager to incriminate himself, even though the police account offers no reason for considering Kazmi a suspect, except that his mobile phone number was said to have been called by a Houshang Afshar Irani, who in turn was said to have been contacted by an Iranian involved in the February 14 explosion in Bangkok.

The disclosure dated March 6 and supposedly given to police before Kazmi was even under arrest confesses to having been informed of the plot for a bombing in Delhi by a Seyed Ali Mahdiansadr during a visit to Tehran in January 2011, and having agreed to help the plotters.

Kazmi is also portrayed in the statement as admitting to having been given a Kinetic brand moped by Irani for safekeeping at his home during the first week in May 2011. The police cite that statement as the justification for immediately arresting him and for allegedly seizing the moped from Kazmi’s residence.

There is good reason to believe that the police had already followed Irani’s trail during his two-week visit to Delhi in late April and early May 2011 and had learned before Kazmi’s arrest that he had purchased a used black Kinetic moped at a commercial showroom in Delhi on April 26.

Kazmi’s family and lawyer Mehmood Pracha say the moped taken away from his residence March 6 was not the one identified in the police “seizure memo”, which has the same identification number as found on the receipt for Irani’s purchase of the scooter, but one left by Kazmi’s brother two years ago and never used during that time.

The memo for the scooter is signed and dated by Deputy Chief of Police Sanjeev Yadav, the senior police official in the SC investigation, and one other officer. It is signed but not dated by a third officer. The fact that Kazmi’s signature is on the document without any date suggests that he signed a blank sheet of paper.

The Kinetic moped is crucial to the SC effort to link Kazmi to Irani’s alleged reconnaissance of the Israeli embassy to prepare for the bombing, because there is no other evidence except Kazmi’s own discredited “disclosures”. But the story about the moped raises serious questions about its plausibility.

It would have made no sense for a terrorist to purchase a moped for that purpose, since Kazmi owned a car that would have made the task far easier as well as more secure.

The alleged turnover of the moped to Kazmi by Irani at the end of his two-week visit makes even less sense, because it suggests that he was planning to use it again for the actual bombing operation. But someone contemplating an operation to affix a magnet bomb to a car would never have considered using a moped for the job. A Kinetic moped normally cannot go faster than 20 miles per hour and is notoriously poor in acceleration, making a getaway for the bomber highly problematic.

In the event, Irani rented a motorcycle when he returned, suggesting that had probably disposed of the moped by reselling it cheaply.

Another sign that the police had trouble linking Kazmi to Irani’s reconnaissance of the Israeli Embassy is the statement attributed to him in one of the “disclosures”.  Whenever he met with Irani, his supposed disclosure says, “I used to leave my mobile phone at my residence.”

That sentence was evidently included to explain why a search of Kazmi’s mobile phone records would not reveal any activity in the area where the “disclosure” claims Kazmi and Irani were carrying out reconnaissance of the Israeli Embassy during Irani’s two-week stay.

The police used the same argument in a 2007 terrorism case in which they had alleged that the accused had taken a trip to Kashmir to collect explosives but had left his mobile phone at his guest house.

The Court did not find the assertion credible, however, and threw out the charges.

*This story is the first in a three-part series, “The Delhi Car Bombing: How the Police Built a False Case”, in which award-winning investigative journalist Gareth Porter dissects the Delhi police accusation against an Indian journalist and four Iranians of involvement in the February 13 bombing of an Israeli embassy car.

Gareth Porter, an investigative historian and journalist specialising in U.S. national security policy, received the UK-based Gellhorn Prize for journalism for 2011 for articles on the U.S. war in Afghanistan. His new book, Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare, was published February 14, 2014. Read other articles by Gareth.