Who is Sohrabuddin Sheikh ?
Who is Sohrabuddin Sheikh ? And why is Congress in love with a terrorist ? Is it playing a high risk game that could backfire ?
To understand why, one needs to answer four key questions:
1. Who was Sohrabuddin Sheikh?
2. Has his killing become emblematic of a moral crusade against fake encounters?
3. What are the CBI and the Congress accusing BJP politicians in Gujarat and Rajasthan of?
4. Either way, whether you like Modi or love the Congress, why are disturbing questions emerging?
Sohrabuddin’s background needs to be placed in context. In the late 1980s, Abdul Latif was the underworld king of Gujarat. Based in Ahmedabad, politically well networked, he made a fortune in the bootlegging industry. Later, he became Dawood Ibrahim’s business manager in the state and was one of the criminal dons to make a transition from organised crime to terrorism. Latif was a suspect in the Mumbai bombings case of 1993; the RDX for that operation landed, remember, on the Gujarat coast.
In November 1997, Latif was killed in an encounter by the Ahmedabad police. He was under arrest and had allegedly tried to escape while using the toilet. A Congress-backed Rashtriya Janata Party government was then running Gujarat. The chief minister was Dilip Parikh but the power behind the throne was Shankarsinh Vaghela, who later became minister for textiles in Manmohan Singh’s first government (2004-09).
Whatever the Congress may say now, in 1997 Vaghela’s supporters saw the elimination of Latif as an achievement and a sample of their leader’s courage and resolve. The importance of Latif’s departure from the state terror matrix was enough for that redoubtable magazine, Frontline, to recall it in its April 29-May 12, 2000, issue.
"Shortly after massive blasts occurred in New Delhi’s Lajpat Nagar market on May 21, 1996," the article in Frontline said, "RAW made available intercepts that led the Srinagar Special Operations Group (SOG) of the Jammu and Kashmir Police to Jammu and Kashmir Islamic Front (JKIF) operative Farida Wani. Soon after, her boss, Hilal Baig, was shot dead by the SOG on July 17, 1996. Telephone intercepts also led the Gujarat police to one of the JKIF’s top associates, Ahmedabad underworld baron and Dawood Ibrahim associate Abdul Rashid Latif. Latif was arrested from New Delhi by a Gujarat Police Anti-Terrorist Squad on October 10, 1996, and was killed later while attempting to escape from custody in Ahmedabad."
Many of Latif’s cohorts were put under watch. One of them was his driver, apparently responsible for, in one daring move, hiding a huge cache of weapons meant for terrorist groups. This was part of the consignment that had arrived before the Mumbai bombings of 1993. Latif was under surveillance and so his driver had stored the arms in a well in his (the driver’s) native village near Ujjain, Madhya Pradesh.
The driver eventually faced over 50 cases, including some under the National Security Act. He was arrested, separately, by the Gujarat and the Madhya Pradesh police forces, but avoided conviction. When not facilitating terror networks, he was engaged in extortion rackets in Rajasthan, acting almost certainly on behalf of others. His principals, the police suspected, were linked to terror funding.
The name of Latif’s driver was Sohrabuddin Shaikh. Strictly speaking, there is no definitive evidence that he was an Islamist terrorist. His theological conversion to global jihad – in the manner of, say, a Hafeez Saeed or a Masood Azhar – is unproven and perhaps even unlikely. Sohrabuddin’s day job was extortion. Many of his accomplices were Hindu and many of his victims were Muslim. Additionally, however, he was active at the periphery of terrorism: playing courier for jihadist networks, delivering weapons and cash.
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