The Special Cell's charges against veteran journalist Mohammad Ahmed Kazmi are trapped in a deceptive zone of dark realism
Sadiq Naqvi Delhi
February 13 and 14, 2012: Three separate incidents rocked Tbilisi, Bangkok and Delhi. In Tbilisi, a grenade was found in a car outside the Israeli embassy. In the Indian capital, a Toyota Innova carrying Tal Yehoshua Koren, wife of the Israeli Defence Attache in Delhi, blew up, apparently after a 'sticky', magnetic bomb, stuck to its rear, blew it up. In Bangkok, a house inhabited by individuals of Iranian origin was rocked by a blast. Later, one of the injured men lobbed a grenade on a taxi driver, injuring himself and three others.
"The destructive power did not reach the level of being able to target groups of people or big buildings," Wichean Potephosree, the head of Thailand's national security council, said on the incident in Bangkok, the most serious among the three. Even in Delhi, though the targeted vehicle was charred, strangely, there were reportedly no serious injuries to the occupants, the driver and Koren. Minutes later, Israel, before even the results of the preliminary investigations could come out, promptly blamed Iran and sought revenge. It is clear that the attacks were carried out to deliver a message.
Meanwhile, in New Delhi, the case of Syed Mohammad Ahmed Kazmi, with a journalistic career spanning 25 years since he began with All India Radio in 1988, has become curiouser and curiouser. Branded as a conspirator in the Toyota bomb blast by the Delhi Police Special Cell, his family and friends have claimed that he is being made a scapegoat to appease the anti-Iran, Israeli lobby.
His son, Shauzab Kazmi, claims that he was at the Congress office at 24, Akbar Road, in a protest against land grab of the revered Shiite shrine of Shah-e-Mardan in Jor Bagh, when, on the nearby Aurangzeb Road, a biker stuck a small 200-230 gram bomb on Koren's car and fled. Ironically, Koren, with mild injuries, as she was hit by the debris of the rear door, insisted to be taken to the embassy and not the hospital. Why? Nobody was allowed near her even as she reached the embassy; she was later taken to Primus Hospital. A couple of days later, she flew out to Tel Aviv after a brief statement to the Delhi Police.
There are mysterious twilight zones in the manner her case was reported in the media, the way the Special Cell and Indian home ministry dealt with her case, her rather superficial interrogation, and her quick departure in a special Israeli plane from Delhi. Also, what was her role in the Israeli embassy and the nature of her work?
"Strangely, when I visited her in the hospital, there was no security presence. The doctor told me she was fine and there was no serious injury, not even any burn injury," a source told Hardnews. On her return, she was congratulated by the Israeli prime minister for her "bravery" and "resourcefulness". Israel called it an Iran-Hezbollah sponsored retaliation; sources stated that it was a revenge attack for the killing of four nuclear scientists in Iran allegedly by Mossad – with sticky, magnetic bombs of the kind used in the Delhi blast.
Interestingly, Israel has denied any involvement in the attacks on Iranian scientists, even though the Iranians claimed Washington and Israel were behind the attacks and that they had used Mujahideen-e-Khalq (MEK), a terrorist group active in Iran. "The MEK is being used as the assassination arm of Israel's Mossad intelligence service. The MEK is in charge of executing the motor attacks on Iranian targets chosen by Israel. They go to Israel for training, and Israel pays them," Richard Sale, a veteran journalist, quotes Vince Cannistraro, former CIA chief of counterterrorism, in his report on TruthOut website.
"Despite the fact that a group of Iranian passport-holders were clearly involved with highly lethal bombs in Bangkok, there is good reason to doubt that they were working for Iran's IRGC or Hezbollah. They spent their first three days in the country with Thai prostitutes at Pattaya. Their profile suggests similarities with Iranian mercenaries, like the former kickboxer hired by Mossad to assassinate Iranian scientist Massoud Ali Mohammadi in January 2010, rather than Iranian or Hezbollah operatives," wrote Gareth Porter, veteran investigative journalist, in an article on Al Jazeera English website.
Besides, Hezbollah is professedly an anti-Israeli militant force based in Lebanon and backed by Iran. There is no evidence till date of it doing any 'terrorist action' in any other part of the world. "Hence, to categorically blame Hezbollah, is crass Israeli propaganda," says a source.
In New Delhi, even as sections of the media went overboard in implicating Iran, the investigators and the government acted cautiously. Under pressure from the US and allies to cut oil imports from Iran or face sanctions, it refused to accuse Iran and stated that there was no clear case of its involvement. However, Israeli media and officials upped the ante. On February 26, 2012, leading Israeli daily Haaretz reported:
"The Indians received a great deal of assistance in the investigation from the United States and Israel and did a lot of work themselves," the senior Israeli official said. "They know Iran is behind the attack. They got to the suspects and carried out arrests. The picture is totally clear to all the officials in India up to the level of the interior minister, but they're not publicizing [it]."
Indian investigators initially denied this claim until they arrested Kazmi on March 7, 2012, a day after the election results in four states, including UP. He was picked up from outside the India Islamic Cultural Centre on Lodhi Road, Delhi. "As he drove out in his Maruti Alto, Special Cell personnel were tailing him in another car. They overtook his car and then asked him to get into their car. Nobody knows what happened after that. We only came to know of his arrest at 9:30pm in the night," Shauzab told Hardnews.
‘Strangely, when I visited her in the hospital, there was no security presence. The doctor told me she was fine, there was no serious injury, not even any burn injury’
He narrates how the cops came to their house with his father and took all the papers and his press cards. "They made me wait outside till 2:30am in the night and then asked me to sign the arrest memo. When I told them that they should wait till morning, they refused."
Subsequently, the draconian UAPA was slapped on Kazmi and he was sent to police remand for an 'unusual' period of 20 days. Delhi Union of Journalists, in its statement, demanded that a chargesheet be filed immediately and that he should be given bail till the charges are proved.
Interestingly, Hindustan Times reported that a high-level Israeli intelligence delegation visited Delhi two weeks before the attack and handed over a list of 50 Iranian nationals to be kept under surveillance, suggesting that Mossad was aware of the possibility of an attack. Even after the attack, reportedly, Mossad has been actively involved in the investigations.
Some believe that Indian agencies were mollycoddled by the Israelis to work on a certain set theory of the conspiracy. Indeed, a petition was moved in the court saying that Kazmi is being questioned by different persons every day, hinting at the possible involvement of Mossad in the interrogations. Police denied these allegations.
Kazmi, a Press Information Bureau (PIB) accredited journalist, which gives him unhindered access to most important government offices, was on the radar, the investigators claim. Observers feel it is surprising that the police refused to arrest him before he left for Damascus recently, where he had gone 'after' the bomb blast as part of a Syrian government sponsored journalists' delegation. They, instead, waited for him to come back.
"He could have easily disappeared in Damascus with the kind of contacts he has in the Middle East. Why would he choose to come back to the country if he is involved in a crime?" John Cherian, a journalist with Frontline magazine, told Hardnews.
Post the arrest, Delhi Police sources claimed Kazmi has confessed that he was in the loop about the conspiracy, and that the conspirators, three men of Iranian origin, stayed with him. He took them around the city, did reconnaissance of the Israeli embassy, and noted down the license number of the vehicle. Among other things confiscated from Kazmi's house, which include his accreditation card, sim cards and other papers, is a scooty which police says was bought from Karol Bagh by one of the Iranian nationals. The scooty was left behind at Kazmi's house as a gift after the suspects left the country, the police claims. Kazmi was said to have made several calls to Iran after the blast.
Says Kazmi's younger son Turab: "The scooty was bought from Karol Bagh by our uncle who had come for treatment at AIIMS. It is not even fit for driving and has been lying in the house for the past more than one year. You can ask our neighbours."
"If they come to my house, they will probably find six sim cards or even more. We keep going to foreign countries to cover important events," says John Cherian. He narrates how Kazmi was giving 'phone-ins' on the Syrian situation to Iranian and other news agencies. "He must have called Iran as well for professional commitments," he adds.
"He has always been mistaken as an agent of some country or the other," says Cherian. He recounts how Kazmi was outraged when on one such trip to Iraq during the Saddam Hussein regime, he was interrogated by the Jordanian secret service 'Mukbarat' in Amman when the Jordanians mistook him for an Iraqi agent. Later, on another assignment, post the US invasion/occupation in Iraq, when he entered a newly sprung arms market where automatic guns were up for sale for as little as $25, he was mistaken to be an American agent by the locals.
Several other journalists feel that Kazmi is being framed and that his expertise on Middle East, critical positions on Israel, and his pro-Iran affiliations are being used against him. His friends say he was proud of the work he did, and he never hid his pro-Iran feelings. "He is a true professional. Although he had a soft corner for Iran, he was equally at ease with the Israelis as well," says a colleague.
Another journalist recounts how Kazmi, who was a regular columnist with several Urdu dailies, besides freelancing for Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) and other media agencies, told him how Israel was trying to buy off Urdu journalists and how he was not in good terms with the present Iranian ambassador. Indeed, he has also been to the US, often on sponsored trips.
"I have personally known Kazmi for 10-15 years. He is an honourable and honest person. His grasp of Persian, which would have otherwise been an advantage for a working journalist, is now being used against him," says eminent journalist Saeed Naqvi, a veteran journalist who had closely worked with Kazmi. "He doesn't know Hebrew and has limited knowledge of Arabic, unlike what is being reported in media about his fluency in these languages," informs Cherian.
Meanwhile, the government has handed over a list of three suspects said to be Iranian passport holders to the Iranian embassy in New Delhi. Interpol has issued red corner notices. "Iran is a highly polarized society. More than 40 per cent of the people are against the government," says Cherian. "It will be interesting to find out about the backgrounds of the suspects. If they are of Kurdish origin etc," said American journalist Gareth Porter based in Virginia, US, in an internet chat with Hardnews. "Why would Iran or Hezbollah do such a trivial attack and that too in India?" argues an Iranian diplomatic source.
‘They spent their first three days in the country with Thai prostitutes at Pattaya. Their profile suggests similarities with Iranian mercenaries, like the former kickboxer hired by Mossad to assassinate Iranian scientist Massoud Ali Mohammadi in January 2010, rather than Iranian or Hezbollah operatives’
The police, who hurriedly produced Kazmi in court three days before his police remand was to end, without even informing his family or lawyer, had earlier claimed that he did not know the full plot. Later, he was charged with being a bigger cog in the conspiracy, including charges of money-laundering.
Masoud Sedghatzadeh, the suspected attacker who was arrested in Malaysia, is said to be the main conspirator of the Delhi bomb attack as well. The attack, it is being claimed, was carried out by one Hossain Afshar Irani, who waited for an hour at the Delhi airport before catching a flight out of India.
Recently, Mark Perry, a journalist with the prestigious US-based Foreign Policy magazine reported about secret CIA memos which detail how Mossad was using dissident Iranian terror group Jundullah and passing them off as American agents.
"Kazmi could have been trapped," says a journalist. "Why would he risk his fledgling career for something criminal?" "We can't rule out the hypothesis that it could have been a False Flag operation," says Porter.
Indeed, with journalist and civil society activists all over India protesting against Kazmi's arrest, the shadows are becoming thicker. The police are yet to prove their charges. The curious case of Kazmi might turn out to be a turning point as the paradigm shifts in the pro-Israeli lobbies of the Indian establishment. Clearly, the medium has become the message.