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Gaps in India's "Iran" bomb case

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Cross-posted from Asia Times

 

The "Special Cell" of the New Delhi police has identified an Iranian, Houshang Afghan Irani, as the man it believes carried out a February 13 car bombing at the Israeli embassy in New Delhi that injured the wife of an embassy official. 
The police believe three other Iranians were also involved in the plot. But major questions about the integrity of evidence put forward to prove the existence of an Iranian bomb plot cast doubt on that claim, which is the centerpiece of the Israeli accusation that Iran has been waging a campaign of terrorism against Israelis in as many as 20 countries. 

Only Indian journalist Syed Mohammed Ahmad Kazmi has been officially charged in the case -- according to police, Kazmi confessed to helping officials from Iran plan the bombing plot in return for payments totalling US$5,500. The treatment of Irani and the other Iranians as suspects also depends very heavily on "disclosure statements" supposedly made by Kazmi but denounced by the journalist as police fabrications.  

Although the Special Cell (SC) also claims to have forensic evidence of Irani's link to the bombing, the evidence appears to be tainted by improper police procedures. 

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. 

A central problem for the SC case is that it has no eyewitness testimony for its contention that Irani planted the bomb on the Israeli embassy car. 

A hotel security camera showed that Irani left the hotel the morning of the explosion wearing a black jacket. Irani had also rented a black Honda Karizma. But eyewitness Gopal Krishanan, who was driving the car that was directly behind the embassy car and thus had a clear view of the motorcycle rider when he attached the bomb to the rear of the car, said he was certain the rider had a red motorcycle and was wearing a red helmet and red jacket. 


The police were convinced by his testimony. Tal Yehoshua-Koren, who was injured in the attack but was able to get to the Israeli embassy without assistance, later told investigators she thought the attacker had been riding a black motorcycle and wearing a black jacket and helmet. A senior police officer involved in the case told the Indian Express, however, that Yehoshua-Koren could not be certain of the color of the motorcycle. 

The police continued to search for a red motorcycle after obtaining her statement, as was widely reported in the Indian press. Only after the SC decided that Irani was the bomber did the police switch to the position that the bomber had been riding a black motorcycle and wearing a black helmet and jacket. 

Irani became a target of the investigation after the SC learned that a phone number associated with Masoud Sedaghat Zadeh, one of the three Iranians staying in a Bangkok house where an explosion occurred February 14, had allegedly contacted the Indian mobile phone number being used by Irani. 

The charge sheet does not include documentation for the claim that Irani's phone had been called by that of the accused in the Bangkok explosion. And Irani's receipts shown in the charge sheet for the moped purchased in April 2011 and for the motorcycle rented in early 2012 list Indian mobile phone numbers different from the one cited as having been contacted by Zadeh. 

Irani made no effort to hide his identity in either of those transactions, so there would be no reason for him to write a false number on the receipt. 

The police claim to have recovered from Irani's hotel room seven items on which the government's Central Forensic Science Laboratory found traces of TNT -- the same explosive that the bomb affixed to the embassy car contained. 

But the SC violated several police procedures in regard to that evidence, suggesting that it may have been planted by the Special Cell. 

It was not until February 29, 16 days after Irani left the hotel, that the room was sealed by police. Even worse, another two weeks passed before it was actually inspected by the Special Cell on March 13, according to the charge sheet. Ordinarily, the passage of that much time between the date the items were allegedly left behind and their discovery would call into question the authenticity of the evidence. 

On July 28, a few days before the charge sheet was made public, the manager of the hotel produced an occupancy chart showing that Irani's room had not been used during the 16 days between his departure and the police order to seal the room. 

The chart, which the hotel manager had plenty of time to prepare for the police, makes the highly unlikely claim that Irani's room was not occupied by any guest during the 16-day period. The effort to show that the room had not been altered after Irani left it still fails to address the awkward question of how so much evidence could have been found in Irani's room long after it would have been cleaned up by hotel staff. 

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Gareth Porter (born 18 June 1942, Independence, Kansas) is an American historian, investigative journalist and policy analyst on U.S. foreign and military policy. A strong opponent of U.S. wars in Southeast Asia, and the Middle East, he has also (more...)
 
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