New Delhi: An Intelligence Bureau (IB) letter to the Home Ministry which says the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) of the USA had mentioned in 2009 that Ishrat Jahan could be a suicide a suicide bomber has been accessed by CNN-IBN and Firstpost.com.
Even nine years after Ishrat Jahan Raza's alleged murder in an Intelligence Bureau-led operation, the question who she was remains unresolved. Now, a CNN-IBN and Firstpost.com investigation has found new evidence of the government received information that she might be a Lashkar-e-Toiba suicide bomber as early as September, 2009. It never investigated the claim, though.
"My sister was a college student and she was innocent," Ishrat's sister had said.
For her grieving family, Ishrat Jahan was an innocent 19-year-old, murdered by police for no reason. But a letter sent in June 2013 to the Union Home Ministry by the Intelligence Bureau paints a very different picture.
In September 2009 says the IB, the United States' FBI in a letter told the Indian government that Ishrat Jahan may have been a suicide bomber, based on their interrogation of David Headley, an accused in the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks.
The FBI says Headley revealed that Lashkar military chief Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi had told him about a female suicide bomber named Ishrat Jahan who was recruited by Muzammil and that Jahan had been killed by the Indian police. Zaki also mentioned Muzammil's plan to attack the Akshardham, Somnath and Siddhivinayak temples, as revenge for the Babri Masjid demolition.
But surprisingly, the NIA's own interrogation of David Headley makes no mention of Ishrat. In 2012, the NIA told the Gujarat High Court that Headley's allegations were hearsay, with no evidentiary value. But the NIA didn't say if it had questioned Headley on Ishrat Jahan, or if he had mentioned her.
"It explains that while for the purposes of the murder investigation, Ishrat's background doesn't matter, it's key to the larger conspiracy," said senior lawyer KTS Tulsi.
Highly-placed sources say then Home Minister P Chidambaram was aware of the FBI letter, but no investigations into Headley's claims were ordered.
"NIA is saying something, the IB is saying something and the CBI is saying something. There should be clarity on what these government agencies are saying. Media sources should also be investigated. They are spreading panic in the nation," said senior Congress leader Digvijaya Singh.
There are more questions: Did the Intelligence Bureau have alleged Pakistani terrorist Amjad Ali Rana in its custody from April 2004, eight weeks before the encounter, as the CBI chargesheet says? Did the IB brief the then home minister Shivraj Patil if it was part of the operation as the CBI claims?
KP Singh, the then IB chief, and now a governor, and the IB's operations chief, Nehchal Sandhu, now Deputy National Security Advisor, did not respond to CNN-IBN.
"Information of this nature from a person like Headley should not have been ignored. In my opinion, I think it was a mistake," said Ashok Karnik, former deputy director, IB.
For decades now, extra-judicial killings have been used very questionably as a weapon in India's war against terrorism. In the past, blame has been assigned to lower level police officers. But as the second phase of the CBI investigation into Ishrat Jahan's killing begins, its seeming possible that now the highest levels of government might have, quite literally, to answer for murder.