Cops say Azad Maidan riot pre-planned; 17 held

The Mumbai police have told the local magistrate's court that the rioting and violence during a rally at Azad Maidan on Saturday was pre-meditated and instigated by a small mob that was not part of the original demonstration, but came from outside.
 
Two people were killed and 63 others were injured, including 45 policemen, and massive damage was done to public buses as well as private vehicles. Some police arms and ammunition were also stolen during the rioting.
 
The police have arrested 24 persons. They have been remanded in police custody till 19 August.
 
Maharashtra chief minister Prithviraj Chauhan feels that a 'foreign hand' could be involved in the protests turning violent. On Sunday, he approached the Union home ministry for help and requested the Intelligence Bureau (IB) to investigate whether a foreign hand was involved in the incident, which both the police and the state administration said was ''planned and part of a conspiracy''.
 
Closed circuit TV footage suggests a conspiracy to trigger violence during the protest over the killing of Muslims in Assam and Myanmar. Police say CCTV footage shows a mob boarding a train from the Kurla station and alighting at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST) armed with sticks, rods and chains. They believe this mob infiltrated the crowds at the protest, and a distinction is being made between the crowd that was already there and those that came later.
 
The violent elements set fire to media and police vehicles and damaged as many as 49 BEST buses. They also desecrated the Amar Jawan memorial dedicated to the 'unknown soldier' at the CST station.
 
The footage also shows the mob molested women, including women cops. Three police weapons - two rifles and a pistol - were stolen at the time of the clashes.
 
The police have decided to charge the arrested persons with murder. They suspect that one of the two youngsters killed, Aftab Aktar Khan, 17, a resident of Kasaiwada in Kurla (East), was shot with bullets that don't belong to a police weapon. Officials are waiting for the ballistic report for a final confirmation.
 
The mob stole two self-loading rifles and a pistol from the police along with 160 rounds of ammunition. While the two SLRs were found in damaged condition, the pistol is yet to be recovered.
 
The crime branch, which is investigating the incident, has recovered a country-made firearm (katta) from the spot.
 
The police have also named 17 rally organisers in the first information report filed in the case, though they have not been arrested so far. Five of these are speakers who addressed the rally, and officials said they would check the content of their speeches to see if they used provocative language or incited the mob in anyway.

Explaining why the police are convinced that the violence was planned, a senior crime branch official said, ''The attackers seemed to have brought a stock of fuel with them and were carrying rods, sticks and knives.''
 
Defence lawyer Wahab Khan argued in court that the police had arrested the wrong people. He also alleged that the accused had been wrongly charged for murder as the two youngsters died in police firing.
 
Officials said the rally was organised by two outfits, the Madina Tul Ilm foundation from Kurla and the Raza Academy.
 
The foundation had applied for permission from the Azad Maidan police to protest the alleged killing of Muslims in Assam and Myanmar.
 
In the application, the organisers said they expected 1,500 people to attend. As per police estimates, more than 20,000 persons turned up.
 
An inquiry has been launched to find out who ordered the firing and whether it was the last resort. A high level meeting was called by Police Commissioner Arup Patnaik at the police headquarters in Crawford Market to ascertain the events leading up to the firing.
 
State home minister R R Patil said the police were not under-prepared and they had reacted promptly. He rushed back to Mumbai from Sangli late Saturday evening and urged citizens to cooperate with the police in maintaining law and order.
 
Meanwhile, the Delhi-based Editors Guild of India on Sunday condemned the violence against journalists in Mumbai during the Azad Maidan protest and urged police to deal with the attackers "sternly".
 
The Guild said in a statement that it "condemns in the strongest words a deliberate and calculated attack on the media by protesters in Mumbai Saturday".
 
"Burning of three media OB vans and attacks on the reporters and photographers of The Hindu, Sakaal Times and number of others and smashing their equipment to destroy evidence, shows a design to teach a lesson to those who had reached Azad Maidan to do their duty," the guild said.
 
"It is matter of grave concern that the mob even threatened to set photographer with the daily Sakaal Times on fire," said Vijay Naik, the guild's general secretary.