Investigations into the Delhi high court blast of September 7, 2011 have hit a curious roadblock. Following the charge sheet filed a fortnight ago, the National Investigation Agency (NIA), sought the Army's help to nab three absconding Hizbul Mujahideen terrorists who the agency believe are crucial to the case.
The need to seek the Army's assistance arose as the wanted terrorists are believed to be holed up in the upper reaches of Kashmir valley. But the trouble is that while NIA wants the three men alive, the Army can offer no such guarantees, pointing out that the terrorists would be expected to put up a fight and a shootout may ensue.
The terrorists who are on the run can help complete links in the terror plot such the assembly and transport of the bomb and the identity of the Pakistani nationals who actually placed the devices at the Delhi high court.
Army operations against terrorists often do not leave the force with much choice as highly motivated militants do not want to surrender. However, as capturing the wanted men would help the NIA case, the agency is in a tricky situation as some crucial evidence is still missing.
In its over 1,000-page chargesheet against arrested blast mastermind Wasim Akram Malik, the agency has named three absconding accused from Kashmir apart from two Pakistani planters whose identity has yet not been established. The three, identified as Junaid Akram Malik (Wasim's brother), Chhota Hafiz and Amir Kamal, are part of the armed cadre of Hizb-ul-Mujahideen.
"We do not have the ground network to apprehend them there. So we sought Army's help. While the Army has assured assistance, they have informally told us it is unlikely that these militants would surrender if at all found and confronted. In case of retaliation, which is most likely, the Army would have no option but to kill them. That, however, will have an adverse impact on our case," said a senior NIA official.
Importantly, the NIA chargesheet on the blast, which killed 17 people and left 90 injured, is low on crucial evidence to complete the case jigsaw puzzle and has only a handful of key witnesses. There is still no answer to questions like who provided the explosives, assembly of the bomb, where was the suitcase containing the bomb was bought from and the real identity of the two alleged Pakistani nationals who planted the bomb.
"These questions can be answered only when the three absconding accused are caught. It was Hafiz and Kamal who had arranged for the planters and the bomb. When Wasim met them for the final meeting on the blast, everything was ready and he says he has no knowledge of where the explosives were brought from. He also knows the planters as only Abu Saifullah and Abu Bilal. These are aliases and not real names," said the official.
Crucially, the agency believes there could be more than one terror outfit involved in the blast, however, has no evidence as yet to prove the same. It has also gathered some tentative evidence indicating that Abu Bilal could be LeT operative Ghulam Sarwar, wanted in last year's Udhampur blast.
However, none of these things can be confirmed until the absconding accused are caught. "We are just hoping that Army will exercise utmost caution and catch them alive," said the official.