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Illegal liquor vend, ‘unique sitting style’ — how 21-day op led police to Moose Wala ‘killers’

ThePrint explains how Delhi Police's Special Cell zeroed in on a location in Gujarat to make crucial arrests in one of the most high-profile killings in recent times.

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New Delhi: Undercover cops, constant technical surveillance, data dump analysis, and monitoring behavioural traits. That’s how the Delhi Police Special Cell managed to nab three shooters and two aides in the Sidhu Moose Wala case. 

The operation began on 13 June after the Special Cell was able to confirm through technical surveillance that some of Moose Wala’s shooters were in Gujarat, sources in the Delhi Police told ThePrint.

From then on, it took the Special Cell 192 hours to raid the suspects’ hideouts — a tiny room that they had rented for Rs 2,500 —  and arrest them. 

Sources in Delhi Police said data from the teleoperator helped investigators narrow down their search to a 3.5 km radius around the Mundra Port on the Gulf of Kutch and eventually to Baroi village.

Baroi is located 2 km from the sub-district headquarters of Mundra. Given the village’s population (14,954 according to the 2011 census), the search for Moose Wala’s killers would prove to be a challenge.

Sidhu Moose Wala, a 28-year-old singer-politician, was killed in broad daylight in Punjab’s Mansa on 29 May. Police believe gangster Lawrence Bishnoi masterminded the murder, along with his close aide Goldy Brar, a gangster based in Canada. 

The Delhi Police Special Cell has arrested several people in the case so far, including three shooters — Priyavrat alias Fauji, Kashish alias Kuldeep, Ankit Sersa alias Ankit Toor — and two aides, namely Keshav Kumar and Sachin Bhiwani.

The Punjab Police has also made multiple arrests in the case, including that of individuals who provided logistical aid to the shooters. While two other shooters – Jaroop Roopa and Manpreet Mannu, – were killed in an encounter with Punjab Police on 20 July, one shooter by the name of Deepak Munde is still on the run.      

From going undercover and minutely monitoring people’s movements to using technology for surveillance, ThePrint gets details about how the Delhi Police Special Cell managed to get a crucial breakthrough in one of the most high-profile murders in recent times.

Also Read: Crime, cult status, young death — Moose Wala killing brings focus on Punjab’s brutal gang feuds

Eyes on rented rooms & illegal liquor trade 

Sources told ThePrint that the suspects had rented a tiny room in Baroi using fake ID cards, pretending to be migrant workers. That explanation aroused no suspicion in an area teeming with migrant workers from Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, and Bihar,  sources said, adding that investigators eventually narrowed their search down to rooms that had been rented recently.

Apart from the fact that the three suspects were hiding within a radius of 3.5 km of the Mundra port, investigators also knew  their physical build, their native places and in some cases, had their complete profile. 

“It’s difficult to single out one tiny room from tower locations. So a special cell team spread across the area on scooties (two wheelers),” a source said. 

Some members of the Special Cell even went around the area dressed as port workers, the source said.  

The presence of various gangs that run the illegal liquor trade in Gujarat, which is a dry state, is why investigators believed that keeping an eye on the illegal liquor trade could lead them to the suspects, the source said.

This is when investigators came across an illegal liquor business catering mostly to workers from Baroi village and nearby areas.

“Supply is mostly controlled by people from the ‘zones’  — Sonepat, Kurukshetra and other areas. We already knew that Priyavrat (one of the shooters) is from Sonepat. These liquor businesses are controlled by gangs,” the source said. 

A few days later, investigators received another tip about three men living in a rented room with a Nepali family living next door.  

This information, however, was insufficient to make an arrest, sources said, adding that it wasn’t until 18 June that the police were able to ascertain the total number of people living in that rented room.

‘Sitting style’ and ‘out of place’ looks

Once the search for the suspects’ accommodation began, the police also started to look for individuals who seemed ‘out of place’.

During one such search operation, police teams came across three men sitting on a charpai (cot), but facing the other side, which made identification a problem. However, what struck investigators was how one of them was sitting — one leg folded and the other bent from the knee, a posture police say is peculiar to Haryana.

“Of the three men, one man had a unique sitting style — one leg folded and the other one bent. That was Priyavrat alias Fauji,” the source said.

Constant surveillance of the house outside which the trio was spotted revealed finer details. 

“Kashish is six feet tall and fair-skinned. He looked out of place in the area,” the source said. 

The police also found that of the three men, only Keshav Kumar — accused of providing logistical support to the shooters and doing a recce at Moose Wala’s house — came out of the room. 

“Keshav Kumar would leave the room to get milk. The quantity wasn’t for one person so we were sure there were more people with him,” the source said. 

Both Priyavrat and Kashish alias Kuldeep had already been spotted in CCTV footage recorded at a petrol pump before Moose Wala’s murder on 29 May. This footage helped the police identify and arrest them from the spot. 

“The police team jumped the walls and first got hold of Keshav who said that two others were inside the room. Both of them were subsequently arrested,” the source said. 

During questioning, Keshav said he had warned the others against walking around the area without masks since stills from the CCTV footage showing their faces had been circulated everywhere by that time. 

“Kumar said that Priyavrat wouldn’t listen and ventured out without a mask. When we arrested him he was without a mask,” the source said.

‘Need-to-know basis only’

Suspects in the Moose Wala killing, sources said, never called each other and only spoke to one another over open Wi-Fi networks or using dongles; that too, only on a need-to-know basis, which made the search for them even more challenging. 

However, they were all in touch with their handler abroad —  Canada-based gangster Goldy Brar. Brar, sources said, would give them instructions and provide them with locations for hideouts. 

Investigators found that a total of seven people suspected to be involved in the Moose Wala murder initially lived in the room in Baroi. 

Four — including 19-year-old Ankit Sersa, who is the youngest of the shooters, and another aide, Sachin Bhiwani — left in the first week of June. Both Sersa and Bhiwani (accused of providing logistical support to the shooters) were arrested at Delhi’s ISBT on 3 July.

It was after the three arrests from Baroi that investigators moved on to their next target – Sersa and Bhiwani. 

The initial assessment was that the two were in Chhattisgarh.

“This was done through a (cell phone) data dump — the time zones and call schedules were found,” the source said. 

Identification, however, was still a long process, especially because the cell phone locations kept changing. Moreover the suspects kept their phones switched off throughout the day. 

“These guys mostly used open Wi-Fi. Moreover, the locations of their cell phones kept changing. What made tracking even more difficult was that the suspects only switched on their phones for a while. Only two calls were made from those phones — one around 3 pm and another around 8 pm, giving us limited scope to trace them,” the source said, adding that they were initially traced to Vidisha in Madhya Pradesh and Bilaspur in Chhattisgarh.

According to sources, the suspects were only taking public transport to move from one place to another which is why investigators, too, concentrated their search in railway stations, bus stops and taxi stands.

“Whenever they would switch on their phones, we would identify their location and then look for the closest railway station and bus stop,” the source said.

“Before their arrest, their location was a remote area of Chattisgarh and the nearest public transport available from that area was the Chattisgarh Express. We had inputs that the suspects could be on the train, going to Delhi. We received further information that they would be at ISBT, where another associate arranged by Brar would be waiting to pick them up,” the source said.

The intel proved to be correct and the two suspects were finally arrested from ISBT, leading to the culmination of the operation. 

Delhi Police’s search for Sidhu Moose Wala’s killers, spanning across 21 days, was led by Special Commissioner of Police (Special Cell) H.S. Dhaliwal, Deputy Commissioner of Police (DCP) Pramod Kushwaha, Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP) Lalit Mohan Negi, and Inspector Sunil Kumar.

(Edited by Uttara Ramaswamy)

Also Read: ‘Inspiration, immortal’ — Fans throng Moose Wala home with talk of revenge & a grim ‘premonition’


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