Cracking Acerbic Case

A crime of passion that surfaced in Srinagar three days before it went to polls created a furore of condemnation and panic. After 14 days, police investigators solved one of the most well planned  crimes done in Kashmir. Bilal Handoo reports the modus operandi adopted by special investigation team (SIT) to crack the case

SP Hazratbal, Rayees Mohammad Bhat Pic: Durdana Bhat
SP Hazratbal, Rayees Mohammad Bhat
Pic: Durdana Bhat

At about 10:30 AM on December 11, a 21-year-old girl student (“a topper”) was on her way to Law College when a Maruti 800 borne youth threw acid on her near Tawheedabad-Nowshera, Srinagar. The shocking incident soon drove protesting students from her college in Nowshera on the roads. Anger started mounting. Police reached on the spot and assured action on war-footing. But as the days passed by, many started doubting the ability of police department to crack one of the shocking crimes committed in Kashmir where the felon had almost left no clue behind.

It was the second such crime of passion (“otherwise very rare in Kashmir”) where acid was used. The police soon applied the modus operandi of Parraypora acid attack case. But the method failed at its infancy itself. In Parraypora case, the girl had cried out the name of assaulter, but in Nowshera, the assaulter was smart enough to conceal his identity. (In January 2013, Riyaz Ahmad Nath of Maisuma Colony of Srinagar’s Chanapora sprinkled acid on a 30-year-old female school teacher in Parraypora after failing to woo her.)

The police higher ups, including Inspector General of Police (IGP) Kashmir Abdul Gani Mir, Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) Amit Kumar and others got involved and a special investigation team was constituted to nab the culprits. Immediately, police got the leads that it was a white Maruti 800 car with a sticker ‘MANSA’ pasted on its rear glass. A ‘massive’ man hunt began after a FIR no. 136/2014 was registered in the case.

Meanwhile, condemnation started pouring in. “I trust the police will do everything to apprehend and severely punish culprits… This acid attack is reprehensible and no condemnation is strong enough,” Omar Abdullah tweeted. “The incident is horrific, inhuman and against the basic human values,” PDP president Mehbooba Mufti said.

SP Hazratbal, Rayees Mohammad Bhat alongwith some of his SIT members. Pic: Durdana Bhat
SP Hazratbal, Rayees Mohammad Bhat alongwith some of his SIT members.
Pic: Durdana Bhat

Amid pressure, protests and condemnations, SIT started working on cues and clues. A head of SIT was somebody who had previously solved the crime of passion. On June 09, 2012, a team of four police personnel solved the ‘Blind Murder Case’ of Wali Mohammad Hajam alias Imtiyaz, a mason from Handwara who was putting up in Batamloo area of Srinagar. The police investigations termed that cold-blooded murder as “a crime of passion” where the main accused Muneer Ahmad War was harbouring a grudge and jealousy against the victim on account of his proximity with a girl to whom the accused was strongly attracted to and purportedly had a relationship with her. Later, the police team recovered  the victim’s body from a plot of land in Batmaloo. The team headed by then SDPO Shaheed Gunj Imtiaz Ismail had in it IPS probationer and then SP Batmaloo Rayees Mohammad Bhat, ASI Mohammad Isaac and Constable Showket Sultan.

Among them, Rayees Muhammad Bhat (IPS 2010) was posted as SP Hazratbal (Srinagar) on Feb 24, 2014. Ten months later, he was leading a team of eight members, including SDPO Hazratbal Zahid Mohammad, prosecuting officer Sadderkot Mehraj Ud Din Mir, SHO Soura Mushtaq Ahmad, sub-inspectors (Mushtaq Ahmad, Mohammad Yousuf, Ghulam Rasool, Abdul Salaam) and ASI Abdul Majeed to crack another crime of passion that happened in his jurisdiction on December 11 involving the law student.

As the workload stacked up, the team strength rose to 16 from initial 8 members. One eye-witness, a local from Nowshera had already shared some important inputs with the team. It was he who had given police initial important leads in the case. A white Maruti car (“not so old”) with no number plate and ‘MANSA’ sticker pasted on its rear glass were his disclosures. The team soon concluded that the vehicle pinpointed by the eye-witness had stopped manufacturing way back in 2011-12. And that the vehicle used in crime might be 2005-11 model.

The eye-witness claimed to have seen the face of the assaulter before he ran away in a clouded up windowed car. A sketch artist was called in. He made the sketch and the local immediately asserted: “Yes, that’s him!” But  tracing a sketched face was taking its time.

The team, in a meantime, struck to the basics. Motive, preparation and conduct of the crime were minutely detailed out. Endless discussions followed. As a result, many theories started piling up. Evidences were collected. One after another brainstorming sessions would end on sour note, as the concrete evidence was still eluding the team.

Amid this stalement, some reacted fiercely against the police on social media: “Our police only know how to use their surveillance methods to book youth on stone pelting charges. Sadly, the same methods aren’t efficient to catch the culprits.” Ire amid protests was peaking up. Finding himself in the line of fire, SP Bhat and his team were attempting to delve deep into the details. Already, the assaulter had somehow managed to bypass the surveillance camera installed in the area. So, there was no question of getting help from CCTV footages.

By December 16, IGP Mir was chairing a high-level meeting of senior officers to review the investigation. In the meeting attended by DIG CKR, SSP Srinagar, SP Hazratbal and members of SIT, it was discussed that more than a professional requirement to nab the culprits, “it is a challenge to our moral consciousness.”

Amid the deadlock, the team got a tip-off. A Kashmiri doctor returning from Kolkatta sounded cops alert about suspicious movements at Srinagar’s Airport. The SIT swung into action and inspected registers, boarding and other passenger related details from Srinagar Airport. And immediately it was known that some 41 Maruti-800 cars had visited Airport that day. Out of them, 20 were white. The RTO Kashmir was contacted who cooperated with the team by furnishing all the necessary details. And soon, it was concluded that 9 out of 20 white Maruti vehicles were of 2005-11 model.

And to hunt those nine Maruti cars, the SIT started moving to different districts. But soon, the exercise proved clueless. The nine Maruti cars on police radar were traced, but nothing incriminating was found about  them. Another adventurous exercise was heading towards the dead-end.

Amid this scenario, the SIT was literally sweating under the pressure of police top brass. The team would give briefing about the investigations to SSP twice a day and once to IGP. The meeting would sometimes stretch till midnight inside SP office Hazratbal. IGP Mir would be also chairing some of these late-night meetings.

It was under this intense moment that the team did an extensive data-mining and tower-tracking. Soon, 12 ‘suspicious’ mobile numbers were retrieved out of 4000 numbers put under surveillance. Among the 12 numbers, four numbers were found in regular contact with the victim. These numbers would call her late in the night. But to the surprise of investigators, all the numbers were put on switch off mode on the day of attack, suggesting the depth of planning done by the brain behind the crime. The mastermind was no naive, rather a crafty head, the team realised.

The police rang up the ‘suspicious’ numbers. The calls were answered. But the user, Irshad Ahmad Wani alias Sunny of Wazir Bagh kept dodging the police on pretext of one excuse or the other. After sometime, he had switched off all his numbers and ran to Ajmer. This beefed up suspicion. From there he called up his friend, Mohammad Omar Noor of Bemina, the one who threw acid on the girl from his sister’s number and advised him to come to Delhi. (On the day of incident, Irshad—the mastermind behind the crime didn’t call his accomplice, Omar, also his business partner. In fact, before the incident as well, Irshad would meet him face-to-face only. No phone calls were exchanged. “Irshad had done his homework very meticulously,” SP Bhat said.)

Omar soon left for Delhi with some money. Earlier he had told his parents that his car had met an accident in Babademb and killed an elder. This gave him enough excuse to motivate his parents to let him go to Delhi. But as he ran out of money, he returned home.

On the other hand, Irshad was making multiple rounds between Ajmer and Jammu. Once the team sniffed his movements in Ajmer, it was concluded that Irshad might be in touch with faith-healers or god-men to charm the girl. It was then that some SIT members disguised as devotees visited some local faith-healers to inch closer to crack the case. Soon a police team from Kashmir visited Jammu and arrested Irshad from his relative’s residence. But he feigned ignorance and didn’t confess his crime.

Meanwhile, Omar’s parents sniffed the scandalous crime involving their son. They contacted and motivated him to surrender before police. He did obey his parents. On the other side, Irshad didn’t accept his charges. But his rigid stance soon broke off and he too confessed his crime. The SIT soon came up with some fascinating facts.

Irshad had been stalking the victim for quite some time and following her movements very closely. His advances being rejected by the college girl left him in a “vengeful huff”. Irshad had also met three faith-hailers and got amulets for the girl to get her motivated for a relationship. After he failed, he prepared Omar to sprinkle the acid on the girl. Both obtained 40 litres of distilled water as well as 2 litres of concentrated Sulphuric Acid from a shop in Batamaloo on December 4. Irshad along with Omar inspected the crime spot seven times before executing his plan.

Omar carried out the attack almost to perfection. He borrowed the vehicle of his uncle who knew nothing of his evil intent. He left home in the vehicle at around 9:15 AM on December 11 and after carrying out his dastardly attack returned home at around 11:30 AM. His right hand was also burnt in the act. He threw the acid beaker near Achan landfill site before returning home with bandaged hand.

“After facing frequent rejections, Irshad prepared Omar to erode the face of girl by saying, ‘once she would be disfigured, then, she would have no excuse to turn me down. Such was his madness for the girl,” asserted SP Bhat.

In the second half of December 25, IGP was giving a press briefing where he revealed that it was very challenging case for various reasons. “It was a blind case as the victim was not in a position to tell anything and was referred to nearby hospital where from she was moved to Chennai hospital,” he said. “We had no vital clues, however, our social responsibility and professional duties were to solve the crime very fast.”

While the victim is said to be in a good condition presently, the SIT members along with their head are smiling over their feat that had given them “sleepless” nights. “Cracking this case is indeed a sense of achievement for us,” SP Bhat said while praising his team for the ‘kudos act’.

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