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Former Delhi Police Commissioner recalls the day terror struck Parliament

Nearly 20 years ago, when a suicide squad stormed the complex, the author was among the first to appear on the scene.

Ajai Raj Sharma 

Former Delhi Police Commissioner recalls the day terror struck Parliament

Before the year 2001 came to an end, an unprecedented crime took place, which shook the nation and showed the world the extent to which terrorism had grown. On 13 December, I received a call. Something unthinkable had happened. Terrorists had entered the Parliament premises and were firing incessantly. I had barely kept the phone down, when the control room also confirmed that firing was taking place in the Parliament premises. There was no time to think and plan. I ran out of my office and headed straight to Parliament. On my way, I called the control room and directed it to ensure that a couple of armed companies reached the Parliament immediately. I also issued orders to certain select officers, particularly those of the Special Cell, to reach the scene of the shootout.

The situation was dire. As the Parliament was in session, the prime minister, along with all the members of his cabinet and the members of Parliament, were present in the House. I did not even want to imagine the colossal damage the terrorists could potentially cause.

As I was approaching the Parliament, I could still hear some shots being fired. When I reached the scene, a number of dead bodies of terrorists, civilians and the police alike, lay scattered at different places in the complex. I also observed that near the dead bodies of the terrorists, weapons like AK-47 rifles, 9 mm pistols and grenades were scattered. Their mobile phones, which were to provide us valuable information, were there too. I deputed a senior officer to take charge of the scene of crime and ensure that all evidence and clues available at the scene were preserved. Immediately, a cordon was thrown around the area and a very close inspection of everything available on the spot was carried out. I entrusted Rajbir Singh, the ACP of the Special Cell, to at once take over the investigation of the case and report the progress to me by evening.

Thereafter, I went inside the Parliament and met the home minister, who was present with the Speaker of the House in his chamber. Both appeared to be in a state of shock. I assured them that within a couple of days, we would be able to trace the culprits and find out who was behind this incident. We requested all members of Parliament to leave for their respective residences and helped them with necessary transport. Once Parliament had been vacated, to ensure that no terrorist remained in hiding on the premises, an intensive combing of the Parliament building and its surrounding area was organized.

The next two days were stressful, to say the least. We were besieged by calls from the press asking all sorts of questions about the investigation of the case. The Special Cell team and the central intelligence agencies jointly launched an intensive investigation into the whole incident. The sim cards of the mobiles of the terrorists contained valuable information and helped to kickstart the investigation. On the basis of the information obtained from these mobiles, four associates of the slain terrorists, namely Mohammad Afzal, Shaukat Hussain Guru, Syed Abdul Rehman Gilani and Navjot Sandhu, wife of Shaukat Hussain Guru, all belonging to Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), were arrested. A large number of explosives and incriminating materials were recovered from their possessions. The first three belonged to Jammu and Kashmir. Mohammad Afzal in his interrogation disclosed that he had crossed over to Pakistan and had undergone two and a half months of training at a training camp in PoK, which was run by the Pak ISI. After completing his training, the handlers infiltrated him back into India.

Investigations revealed that the terrorists who had been killed had local support. Syed Abdul Rehman Gilani, a lecturer of Arabic in Zakir Hussain College, had been in touch with them. He, along with Mohammad Afzal and Shaukat Hussain Guru, had been making necessary arrangements for them in Delhi. It emerged that Mohammad Afzal had been very active and was the main coordinator of JeM in Delhi. He further stated that in the first week of December, a meeting had taken place in the house of Shaukat, in which Shaukat Hussain and Mohammad Afzal were present along with the terrorists. In this meeting, they discussed a plan to carry out an attack on the Parliament House.

Biting the Bullet: Memoirs of a  Police Officer Author:  Ajai Raj Sharma Publisher: Rupa Price: Rs 495 | Photo: Amazon India

Biting the Bullet: Memoirs of a Police Officer Author: Ajai Raj Sharma Publisher: Rupa Price: Rs 495 | Photo: Amazon India

After her arrest, Navjot Sandhu disclosed that after the incident of 13 December 2001, Shaukat Hussain and Mohammad Afzal had immediately left in a truck for Srinagar. This information was given to J&K Police, who located the truck and apprehended both Mohammad Afzal and Shaukat Hussain. A laptop and ten lakh rupees were recovered from their possession.

On being subjected to intensive interrogation, Mohammad Afzal disclosed that he used to visit Delhi for business purposes regularly. In February 2001, he was contacted by Tariq, a close associate of Ghazi Baba, a Pakistani national, who was the supreme commander of JeM in India. According to him, Tariq motivated him to join JeM. He took him to Ghazi Baba, who had his base in Abu Hills, Pahalgam. Ghazi Baba informed Mohammad Afzal that under pressure from the ISI chief, both Masood Azhar of JeM and Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi of LeT had joined forces. The Pak ISI had issued directions to them, to carry out a fidayeen attack in Delhi. Ghazi Baba directed Mohammad Afzal to go back to Delhi and set up a base. Consequently, Mohammad Afzal came to Delhi. He motivated Shaukat Hussain and Syed Abdul Rehman Gilani to be a part of the conspiracy for conducting the fidayeen attack.

In the month of October 2001, Ghazi Baba introduced Mohammad Afzal to another JeM militant. His name was Mohammad. He was also a Pak national. Mohammad Afzal was informed that Mohammad would lead the proposed fidayeen attack in Delhi. Thus, Mohammad Afzal brought Mohammad to Delhi and arranged a safe hideout for him in Mukherjee Nagar. Leaving Mohammad at the hideout, Mohammad Afzal, after a week, returned to Srinagar. Shaukat Hussain arranged another safe hideout in Gandhi Vihar. On returning to Srinagar, Mohammad Afzal met Tariq again. Tariq introduced Mohammad Afzal to yet another two JeM militants, Raja and Haider, both of whom were Pakistani nationals. In November 2001, Afzal brought them to Delhi and took them to the hideout in Gandhi Vihar. After a week, Mohammad Afzal returned to Srinagar and met Tariq again. He was introduced by Tariq to two more militants-another Raja and Hamza (both Pakistani). They were brought to Delhi in the beginning of the first week of December 2001. They brought with them AK rifles, pistols, a grenade launcher, grenades, detonators, radioactive devices and wireless sets-hidden in their baggage.

In order to reconnoitre the Parliament House area, Afzal purchased a black Yamaha motorcycle. The Parliament House and the surrounding areas were reconnoitred several times. They also purchased five mobile phones and some police uniforms. They prepared fake ID cards and a parking sticker for their vehicle for entering the Parliament premises. On 11 December, they purchased a second-hand white ambassador car from Karol Bagh. They fitted this car with tinted glass and a red light. The seller of this car had identified it when visuals of the car were displayed by news channels after the attack. This particular seller knew one of the Delhi police officers and informed him about the sale of this car on the date of the incident. The same was conveyed to one of the ACPs and that was how the information reached me. But by that time the incident had already taken place.

On 13 December, all of them met in Gandhi Vihar. Mohammad, the leader of the fidayeen group, handed over a laptop and ten lakh rupees to Afzal Guru. He told him that in case they were killed in their mission, the laptop should be handed over to Ghazi Baba and the money should be kept with Afzal for their future expenses. Heavily armed, all five militants then left for the Parliament in the car they had purchased. It is indeed surprising how easily they entered the Parliament campus, by hoodwinking the Watch and Ward staff of the Parliament. Once inside the campus, the militants drove fast, anxious to achieve their mission. Unfortunately, they drove onto a wrong road at the end of which a huge iron gate was chained and locked permanently. Realizing their mistake, they became nervous. They tried to reverse at high speed, but in the process banged against the escort vehicle in the motorcade of the vice president of India. The security persons sitting in the escort vehicle jumped out and tried to stop the ambassador. This resulted in a shootout between them. Unfortunately, the securitymen were at a severe disadvantage, as they were equipped with only close quarter battle weapons, mostly 9 mm pistols. On the other hand, the militants were using AK-47 rifles. Fortunately, the periphery of the compound was being guarded by a company of the Central Reserve Police Force. On witnessing the shootout inside the campus, they began firing with long-range rifles. The security men fought bravely but four of them fell to the bullets of the militants. Five terrorists, all Pakistani nationals, were also killed in this fierce shootout. Besides them, one unfortunate lady constable of the CRPF, two Watch and Ward men on the rolls of the Parliament and an innocent gardener were also killed. Four security men lost their lives, but they not only saved the day for us but also helped the government from a lot of embarrassment and humiliation. A big service was done by the staff of the Parliament House, when they quickly closed the big wooden doors leading into the Parliament. Even today, when I think about this incident, I shudder to think of the consequences, especially its international ramifications, had the terrorists succeeded in their mission.

Excerpted with permission from Rupa

First Published: Sat, February 08 2020. 22:51 IST
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