Creating Tauqeer

BY Jyoti Punwani| IN Media Practice | 14/10/2008
Will the same fate meet Maria¿s find, the latest mastermind Mansur Peerbhoy, the `techie¿ from Pune with a salary of Rs 19 lakh?
JYOTI PUNWANI traces the emergence in the public imagination of a now discredited “mastermind.”

How fitting that Mumbai¿s high profile super cop, Rakesh Maria, the darling of Mumbai¿s media corps, should be the one to dismiss Tauqeer, now better known as India¿s Osama Bin Laden, as a `media creation¿! Will   the  same   fate  meet Maria¿s find, the latest mastermind Mansur Peerbhoy, the `techie¿ from Pune with a salary of Rs 19 lakh?

Rakesh Maria, Mumbai¿s joint commissioner (crime) is almost a legend. Part of the team that investigated the
March 12, 1993 bomb blasts, he was the man on whom the character of Kay Kay Menon was based in the film `Black Friday¿. There he was shown as an  intense and brooding, stoic yet sensitive tough cop.

For the current investigations by the Mumbai Crime Branch which he heads,Maria is The spokesman. Even when Mumbai¿s Police Commissioner Hasan Gafoor sat in on some of the first briefings, Maria dominated the show. What Maria says is bound to be treated as even more sacrosanct than what other police officers have so far told the media about the bombers. His latest investigations into the bomb blasts (the alleged masterminds arrested by Maria are said to be responsible for all blasts in the country since 2005), overrule the claims made until now by the Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS), Mumbai.

So it¿s not surprising that when Maria dismissed Abdus Subhan Qureishi or Tauqeer as a `media creation¿, no reporter present questioned him. In fact, Tauqeer is as much a media creation as is Atif, the boy who was shot in Batla House, or Mufti Abu Bashir, the original mastermind arrested from Azamgarh,  or now Mansur Peerbhoy, the Yahoo employee from Pune whose salary the media is so obsessed with.

From where did all these names originate? Not from the media¿s own investigations. The media can hardly take it upon itself to investigate bomb blasts. All these names were supplied to the media at crowded press conferences and subsequently in select briefings by police officers.

If Tauqeer is indeed a media creation, one can only marvel at the excellent level of coordination  that exists in the Indian media. From
Delhi to Mumbai, Ahmedabad to Chandigarh, Bangaluru to Pune, all leading newspapers started naming him as the most wanted terrorist from mid-September onwards. A couple of newspapers had named him earlier  in connection with the Ahmedabad blasts, but it was after the Delhi blasts of September 13, that his name and face began appearing on the front pages of all newspapers and on all TV channels. He was then named the Osama Bin Laden of India, and details of his life, from childhood till he resigned his job in 2001, began appearing. Obviously, this was all being fed to the media by the police, and indeed, the stories were attributed to them. Tauqeer was first named as far back as August 16, in a press conference in Ahmedabad addressed by the Gujarat DGP and Ahmedabad¿s Joint Commissioner Crime. His name was given as `Altaf Subhan¿ and he was described as a ``bomb-making expert.¿¿

The next day, Praveen Swami reported the contents of this press conference in `The Hindu¿. He expanded his name to   ``Mohammad Altaf Subhan¿¿ and described him as ``the crack bomb-maker who fabricated the improvised explosive devices used in Ahmedabad and
Surat.¿¿ Significantly, Swami  did not attribute this allegation to anyone.

Two days later(Aug 19), a PTI report in The Times of India Mumbai, quoted an official of the Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) Mumbai, ``speaking on condition of anonymity¿¿. The name  `Tauqeer¿ was first used in this report. The ATS officer said that according to the Gujarat Police, Tauqeer¿s  real name was `Abdul Subhan¿. The unnamed ATS officer described Tauqeer as one of the alleged masterminds of the Ahmedabad serial blasts and the probable author of the emails sent before the Ahmedabad and Jaipur blasts. It was in this report that Tauqeer¿s personality was fleshed out: his expertise with computers, his previous jobs, his Mumbai address and his age.

The September 13 issue of The Hindu (ironically, the very day the
Delhi blasts took place), carried a long profile of Tauqeer by Praveen Swami. Calling him Abdul Subhan Usman Qureshi, and revealing his new alias `Kasim¿, Swami wrote that police forces across the country, backed by the IB, had made the hunt for Qureshi their priority. He was the one who trained the bomb makers of Ahmedabad, said Swami, ascribing this to the interrogation of Shahbaz Husain, a  Lucknow businessman. Swami also cited the finding of forensic experts that the handwriting in the signature `Al Arbi¿, (one of the signatories to the email sent just before the Ahmedabad blasts) matched the handwriting in Qureshi¿s personal correspondence. Swami cited ``police sources¿¿ and ``investigators¿¿ throughout the long piece.

That Saturday evening the
Delhi blasts took place, and on Monday morning,  Mid-Day carried a profile of Tauqeer datelined Bangalore, and written by two reporters, Imran Gowhar and Divyesh Nair. Titled `Who is Tauqeer?¿ the piece read almost the same –in  essence – as Swami¿s piece in The Hindu, except for a curious change: where Swami had written `unlike many inner city Muslims¿¿, these reporters wrote ``unlike many Hyderabad Muslims¿¿.

Interestingly, the Mid-Day report did not link Tauqeer with the
Delhi blasts. But every other paper, including The Hindu, did so. Then on, Tauqeer¿s name was all over the place. By Monday, September 15, he had already been called India¿s Osama Bin Laden and an Interpol alert had been  issued for him. On Tuesday, the Economic Times and CNN IBN described him as the `head of SIMI¿s IT wing¿, quoting `agencies¿, while others described him as the `terror mastermind¿ who was behind the Jaipur, Bangalore, Ahmedabad and Delhi blasts. The Mumbai, Gujarat, Delhi and UP police were reported to be on the look-out for him. Tuesday¿s Sakaal Times had this from an "informed source¿¿:  "He is like the Jackal, the fictional character in Frederick Forsyth¿s The Day of the Jackal. He changes his appearances, transforms himself into a new character, mounts an operation and vanishes without leaving a trail after the job is done."

On Wednesday, The Times had this quote from Parambir Singh, ATS Mumbai
additional commissioner, who the report said, was helping the Delhi Police: ``Subhan is the most wanted man. All agencies are coordinating to nab him.¿¿

September 19 was the Jamia Nagar Batla House encounter in which two boys were killed, and a third wounded. That very day,  Alok Kumar, DCP, Special Cell,
Delhi, told reporters,  "Tauqeer is the main leader who played an important role in all the blasts." Again, on the same day,  papers quoted Delhi police sources saying that after the first Delhi blast, Atif (who had been shot dead) had sent an SMS to Tauqeer in Mumbai, and then Tauqeer sent the Indian Mujaheedin email to the media.

Again, on that day itself, India Today¿s online news service wrote, quoting SIMI head Safdar Nagori¿s narco analysis results, obviously given to them by the police, that  Nagori had wanted Tauqeer to be SIMI¿s ambassador.

Then one saw a fresh surge of news on Tauqeer, all ascribed to various police sources. On Sept 20, IB sources were cited as saying he was in PoK, and four days later, the same sources said he was in
Bangladesh. A MID-DAY report (again datelined Bangalore) described him as the financial secretary of SIMI. The DNA wrote that Nagori and Tauqeer had been invited to Pakistan¿s iftaar party in 2001.

On September 26, The Times carried a PTI report datelined
Hyderabad which said that the AP police had filed a case against Tauqeer for waging war against the state, by conducting terror camps. The same day, TNN reported from Ahmedabad that the Gujarat police, in its remand application for those arrested for the Ahmedabad blasts, had described Tauqeer as the ``mastermind of the Ahmedabad blasts¿¿.


Eleven days later, Mumbai¿s Crime Branch chief  Maria claimed that Tauqeer was a media creation! Either he¿s wrong or the whole lot of police, IB included, who had been yapping away about Tauqeer to a salivating media, were wrong.

True, the media did not simply report what the police told them. As in most stories, it tried to flesh out an already sensational story.  It gave sensational headlines; and, having got Qureshi¿s address from the police, began stalking his homes. Camera teams stood outside the flat where lived his wife, sister and parents. When the family members refused to come out, choosing to respond from behind closed doors, the teams recorded their answers and played them on TV. Reporters went to his original home in south Mumbai, spoke to his neighbours, and published pictures of the building and his flat under the heading:``Breeding grounds? Suspects lived or worked here.¿¿

The family¿s ordeal had begun much much earlier. In 2006, after the July 11 train blasts, the ATS Mumbai had allegedly harassed and humiliated Subhan¿s entire family. In affidavits filed individually by each member, the humiliation was described: the ATS had stripped Subhan¿s sister¿s husband in front of her; she had sustained a fracture in her arm. They had humiliated the elderly father in front of his sons. All this was done to get them to reveal Subhan¿s whereabouts.  These affidavits were sent, along with those filed by other families of the July 11 blast suspects, to the PMO¿s office. It was only after that that the harassment had stopped.

This time, soon after the Ahmedabad blasts, the ATS reportedly took away Subhan¿s sister¿s lap top, and then  his brother¿s.  They have allegedly not yet been returned. The Qureshis have written about this to the Chief Justice of the Bombay High Court. At that time too, like this time, the ordeal had coincided with Ramzan.

This time, the police used the media to build up the portrait of Subhan as a terrorist. Such was the impact, that on Wednesday September 17, just four days after the
Delhi blasts, Zubeida Qureishi called a press conference where she maintained that with the upbringing her children had received,  she believed her son was innocent, and the media should not pronounce him guilty.


The press conference was aired on all news channels.The next day, the Mumbai ATS, again, through the media, countered her claim that she had not met him since 2001, and gave more details about him.  And the next day, all TV channels aired  - with appropriate suspense music  and the usual hysterical headlines - the 2001 SIMI press conference wherein he was shown seated next to Nagori.

One can accuse the media of insensitivity but not of fabrication. Indeed,  the creation of Tauqeer has been a joint effort, masterminded by the police, and executed by a willing media.


















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