New Delhi: Naushad Ali didn’t quite fit into the area. “He looked well dressed, from a different place. I was curious,” says Shailendra Kumar, who runs a kirana (ration) store in northwest Delhi’s Shradha Nand Colony, adding that he spoke to Naushad only twice.
Right beside the tiny kirana store is a small tenement. According to the Delhi Police, it was in one of the rooms here that Naushad (56) and co-accused Jagjit (29) allegedly beheaded a 21-year-old man at the behest of “Pakistan-based handlers”. Police sources say they believe the man’s body, chopped into eight parts, was disposed of in a nearby wetland.
Kumar tells ThePrint that Naushad moved into the area some two months ago.
“Rent is very cheap here and landlords stay away. One person gives it to someone else, and the room is then passed on. I sit here outside the entire day and Naushad really looked out of place, so I asked him why he was staying here. He said that he is building a house and actually lives with his family in Mehrauli,” says Kumar, adding that he would often see Naushad and Jagjit together in the locality.
The duo, police suspect, met during their time in Haldwani jail in Uttarakhand in 2020.
Kumar recalls another instance when he saw Naushad taking away a refrigerator a few days after bringing it home, saying it needed repair.
In the room adjacent to the alleged crime scene, where police claim to have recovered two grenades and traces of human blood, lives a middle-aged man who works at a gas repair shop, and his son. Denying that he ever interacted with Naushad apart from the occasional salaam (hello) at the main door or near the common washroom, he points to the sealed room next to his own and says, “Who knew terrorists lived here?”
The other three rooms on that floor have been vacant since before the alleged crime.
Arrested on 12 January over their suspected involvement with terror outfits, Naushad and Jagjit were booked under the stringent Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. The Special Cell registered a case against them under section 120B (criminal conspiracy) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), besides relevant sections of the Arms Act, Explosives Act, and Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, or UAPA.
It was only during interrogation that the police found traces of blood at their residence, followed by the recovery of the victim’s limbs Saturday.
Naushad and Jagjit were allegedly acting on the instructions of a Pakistan-based handler, Sohail, who according to Naushad’s custodial interrogation, had been lodged in Delhi’s Tihar jail in 2011.
Sources in the Delhi Police claim “Sohail” is associated with Lashkar-e-Taiba — the terror outfit with ties to Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) — and that Jagjit was a part of the Bambiha gang, under the umbrella of Canada-based gangster-turned-terrorist Arshdeep Singh alias Arsh Dalla.
However, there is no clarity on who Sohail is or the case that led him to the confines of Tihar. There is also no confirmation on whether that is his real name or an alias. A report by news agency ANI suggests that Sohail was transferred to Delhi from a jail in Kashmir.
During their interrogation, Naushad and Jagjit told the police that they shot a video of the beheading, and sent it to Sohail via the instant messaging application Signal. The phone, confiscated from the accused, has been sent for forensic analysis. Senior officers say they did not open the phone to avoid tampering with the hash value — the digital signature that helps police authenticate the integrity of a device and the evidence recovered from it.
Sources in the Delhi Police say Naushad received around Rs 5 lakh over the last couple of months through contact sources and hawala channels from his “Pakistan-based handler”, adding that he also received Rs 2 lakh after the killing.
The duo, police say, thought the victim — who had a tattoo of a “trishul” (trident) on his arm — was a “drug addict” and to prove their allegiance to their Pakistan-based handlers, deceived him to accompany them to the room where he was allegedly murdered on 15 December.
Delhi Police has also alleged that Naushad and Jagjit were instructed to assassinate “right-wing Hindu leaders”, including from the Punjab-based Shiv Sena.
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Two murder cases, 1 acquittal, ‘radicalisation’
Originally from Bihar, Naushad and his family moved to the national capital and settled there at some point. Police know little about his education. According to sources, his first wife died in 1998, and he has two daughters from that marriage. He later remarried and has a 30-year-old son.
Naushad’s first known serious brush with the law was in 1991, when he — then in his early 20s — allegedly stabbed one Jitender Kumar in full public view following a verbal spat in Delhi’s Jahangirpuri. A lower court convicted him of murder and sentenced him to life imprisonment in 1999.
However, in 1996, when he was out on parole for two months, he was accused of another murder and a separate case was registered against him under the Explosives Act. In this second case, Naushad was acquitted by the Delhi High Court in 2006.
In the second murder case, court and police records say that Naushad and co-accused Nadeem were accused of killing one Abdullah Sherwani. Sources in the Delhi Police suspect it was Nadeem who introduced Naushad to the Pakistan-based Islamist terror outfit Harkat-ul-Ansar.
Legal records also show that the prosecution had stated that police received information about an unidentified body being found in Shah Alam Bandh in Delhi’s Adarsh Nagar on 11 November 1996. The deceased was later identified as Abdullah Sherwani, originally from Assam. The prosecution argued that while Naushad caught hold of Sherwani, Nadeem fired at him with a ‘katta’ (country-made pistol) after which the duo fled the spot.
The prosecution stated that Nadeem disclosed during interrogation that he had ties with a terrorist organisation and that he had met Sherwani who, he claimed, had cheated him of Rs 4-5 lakh. The police then registered another case under relevant sections of the Explosives Act against Naushad, Nadeem and one Bilal Siddiqui.
According to the 1996 FIR, Bilal’s name came up during interrogation and 2 kilograms of RDX (explosives) were recovered from his possession.
In the Sherwani case, Naushad was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment by a lower court in 2001. But five years later, in November 2006, the Delhi High Court acquitted him. The HC cited loopholes in the investigation, and noted the possibility that the katta and cartridges cited as recovery by the investigating officials 15 days after statements of the accused were recorded, could have been planted.
However, because he was convicted in the 1991 murder case, Naushad spent 25 years in jail in all and was finally released in 2018, according to the police.
Subsequently, in 2020, he was also arrested in connection with an extortion case in Uttarakhand and was released from jail there in 2022. It is believed that Naushad met Jagjit during his Uttarakhand jail stint.
According to Delhi Police sources, Naushad and Jagjit — who had jumped parole last year — kept in touch.
Sources say it was during his time in Tihar that Naushad came into contact with several terrorists including Mohammed Arif, an accused in the 2000 Red Fort attack case. It was during this stint, police claim, that Naushad was further radicalised.
Living in the shadows
Back in Jahangirpuri, the house where Naushad lived with his second wife and son remains locked. The locality is a mix of Hindus and Muslims.
Neighbours say the terror accused never said or did anything that would lead them to believe that he was capable of committing such a gruesome crime.
In Naushad’s building, there are at least three-four Hindu families and one Muslim family claiming that they did not know much about him. “He would sometimes live here and sometimes not. We didn’t see much of his family. We don’t know what he did for a living,” says the Muslim neighbour who lives on the top floor.
ThePrint spoke to all occupants of the building and nearly a dozen neighbours, all of whom denied even knowing Naushad’s name. The only neighbours who knew his name were a man who lives on the top floor and another woman who lives in the adjacent building.
(Edited by Amrtansh Arora)
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