NIA is Fast Emerging as a Professional Investigating Agency
C D Sahay

The National Investigation Agency (NIA) that was established in 2009, post-26/11 Mumbai terror attack, with the specific charter to investigate terror related incidents, achieved a major success on 13th December, 2016 when the NIA Special Court at Hyderabad, convicted five members of the outlawed Indian Mujahedeen (IM), for triggering twin blasts in Dilsukhnagar area of Hyderabad on February 21, 2013. Later, on December 19, 2016, the Special Court, after hearing the arguments of prosecution and defence, awarded death sentence to all the five convicted accused. (N. M. Government of India 2016).
This is seen as a major achievement for the ‘young’ investigative agency for two reasons; first-its thorough and efficient investigation and prosecution and second-the conclusion of the trial in a virtual record time. This is the first major conviction of IM terrorists in the country. The convicts include the IM co-founder Mohammed Ahmed Siddibapa, alias Yasin Bhatkal. The arrest of the key conspirator Yasin Bhatkal was very challenging, because in aftermath of twin blasts, Bhatkal had stayed away from telephones and internet to avoid being tracked. The NIA worked in coordination with the intelligence agencies and tracked Bhatkal’s presence in Nepal. His movements were minutely followed leading to his being brought to India and final arrest (Gaikwad 2013).
After painstaking investigation by the professional investigators of the NIA, in close coordination with the prosecutors, a comprehensive charge sheet against Riyaz Bhatkal (A1), Asadullah Akhtar(A2), Waquas (A3), Mohammed Tahseen Akhtar (A4) and Yasin Bhatkal (A5) (N. M. Government of India 2014) was filed with the NIA Court in just over a year, on March 14, 2014 for offences committed under Sections 302, 307,324,326, 201, 120B, 124A, 153A, of Indian Penal Code (IPC), Section 3 and 5 of the Explosive Substance Act of 1908, and Section 16, 18, 20 of Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act 1967 (N. M. Government of India 2014). The trial lasted for nearly 31 months and in the end the NIA team got the ultimate professional satisfaction of seeing their tireless efforts pay rich dividend.
On the same day i.e. on December 19, 2016, in another development of equal significance in the field of intrusive investigation into terrorism related cases in the country in recent times, the NIA team of investigators, filed a detailed Charge Sheet in the January 2, 2016 terrorist attack on the Pathankot Air Force Station in which 7 soldiers/security personnel and 4 Pakistani terrorists were killed. It was a complicated case, remarkably different in nature from the earlier ones including the 26/11 Mumbai attack by Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) or even the 13/12 attack on the Parliament or the 1999 IC 814 hijacking perpetrated by the equally infamous Jaish-e- Mohammed (JeM). While the entire planning and execution of the Pathankot attack was meticulously done by and under the supervision and control of the Pak-based the senior commanders/leaders of JeM, the incrementing evidence was largely based on electronic and other technical inputs. This time around the NIA did not have ‘Kasabs’ of 26/11 or ‘Afzal Gurus’ of the Parliament attack.
The NIA was asked to investigate the case and it managed to collect a vast plethora of evidence in less than a year from the date of commission of crime. The investigation included analysis of electronic inputs, voice sampling, tracing of international call details, examination of witnesses, complicated DNA profiling and inspection of all the evidences collected within a period of one year (N. M. Government of India 2016). The four teams which were camping in various districts of Punjab completed its verification of facts and examination of witness in competent time (N. M. Government of India, Update on investigation in Pathankot Terror attack 2016).
The NIA investigators collected sufficient evidence in terms of statements of the witnesses to establish that the terrorists had been trained, motivated and radicalised by JeM leaders Maulana Masood Azhar and Mufti Abdul Rauf. They also established through intercepts and statements of witnesses that Kashif Jan and Shahid Latif had guided, equipped and launched the four terrorists, who carried out the terrorist attack at the Air Force Station, recoveries from the scene of crime, material and documentary evidence, forensic reports and extensive call data analysis, conclusively establish the complicity of the terrorists of JeM, in the attack at the Pathankot Airbase.
Sanction for prosecution has been obtained from the Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India, under the Section 45(1) of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967, as amended. Sanction of the District Magistrate, Pathankot as required under section 39 of the Arms Act, 1959, and under section 7 of the Explosives Substances Act, 1908, has also been obtained and has been submitted along with the charge sheet (N. M. Government of India 2016). A reading of the Charge Sheet which is available on NIA’s website, leaves no doubt that the agency has carried out quality investigation in record time.
The NIA, which came into existence in 2009, was initially perceived as a Delhi centric organisation that would have had to compete with the Crime Branches and Special Investigation Teams (SIT) and Special Task Forces (STF) at the state levels. It did face hurdles in the initial days as the states were reluctant to cede any space to the new entity; at times delaying handing over of case; exhibiting tendencies of lack of cooperation etc. But gradually the Agency has managed to ride through these problems and has now emerged as the primary institution to investigate anti-terrorism cases. It now has nationwide presence in terms of full-fledged units and branches at Hyderabad, Guwahati, Mumbai, Kochi and Lucknow. The NIA has also established a separate specialized cell known as Terror funding and Fake Currency Cell (TFFC Cell) dealing with the subjects of fake Indian currency and terror funding. The cell maintains data base of terror financing and cases of Fake Indian Currency Notes (FICN). It also conducts part investigation into terror financing aspects of regular cases investigated by the NIA. For terror financing aspects of Naxalite groups operating in various parts of India, the TFFC Cell has conducted a number of verifications of bank accounts suspected to be linked with Naxalite groups. However, the inquiries/investigation conducted by the cell till now did not reveal linkages of suspected accounts with the known Naxalite groups (P. M. Government of India 2015).
The NIA which is emerging and evolving as a truly national investigation agency in respect of terror cases, is currently handling nearly 50 terrorism related cases, with its Delhi unit dealing with bulk (30) of these. Some of the more serious ones include the recent attacks at Udhampur, Nagrota and Uri in J&K, the Abu Jundal case, bomb explosions in Bihar and West Bengal in 2013/14, a number of FICN and terror financing cases, the Mecca Masjid blast of 2011, the controversial Malegaon and Samjhauta bomb blast cases, Ajmer Sharif bomb blast, series of terror cases from the North Eastern states and a large number of ISIS related cases from Kerala and the southern states. The NIA has also helped in unearthing the larger conspiracy behind the November 2008 attacks in Mumbai and are working in concert with other law enforcement and security agencies to bring the offenders to justice.
In emerging and evolving as the national investigation agency, the NIA is faced with dual challenge of building a new institution and simultaneously investigating complex cases of terrorism, insurgency, terror funding with its regional and global ramification. The two cases mentioned above, should in the least, give the Agency the confidence that it has done it and that it can do so in the future as well. Due to its commendable execution and investigation, it has made marked its presence at global level; no wonder the leading investigation agency of the world Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) of the USA is working in cooperation with the NIA in certain Islamic State related cases and issues of radicalisaiton (Kumari 2016).
The challenges before the Agency are enormous. Its resources, particularly in terms of availability of top professional manpower, are still very limited. It should also place reasonable responsibility on the government to do more to make service in the NIA attractive for the best talent to join the ‘crusade’ against terror. This does not merely imply better service conditions for its personnel; but more importantly, to grant it a clear and exclusive charter, enact new legislations or suitably amend the existing ones to create a more conducive mechanism for investigation and prosecution of terror cases. It may also not be entirely out of place to mention here that the NIA mechanism cannot do it all on its own. It can only carry out investigation and prosecution. The nation’s fight against the scourge of terrorism has to be elevated to a much higher level. For this, to start with, there is need for the government to now have a fresh look at the earlier idea to strengthen its the intelligence collection, coordination and operationalisation infrastructure by establishing the proposed National Counter Terrorism Centre (NCTC) as has been done by many countries. That is not going to be easy unless a national consensus is developed on this issue. Till then, one small of step ensuring NIA’s involvement with any developing terror module, from the very outset, just as credible intelligence starts flowing in, will greatly contribute to smooth investigation and successful prosecution. It is understood that such a practice is in vogue in some western countries with commendable results.
(Ramanand Garge is a Scholar while C D Sahay is a former Chief of R&AW and a Dean, at the VIF, New Delhi)
Gaikwad, Rahi. "IM founder Yasin Bhatkal arrested." The Hindu, August 29, 2013.
Government of India, National Investigation Agency Ministry of Home Affairs. "Charge sheet, State Vs Riyaz Bhatkal and Others." March 14, 2014. (accessed December 21, 2016).
"Chargesheet filed in NIA Special Court against senior commanders of Jaish-e-Mohammed for their involvement in the terrorist attack at Pathankot Airbase on 2nd January, 2016." December 19, 2016. (accessed December 20, 2016).
"DETAILS OF CHARGE SHEETED ACCUSED." March 14, 2014. (accessed December 28, 2016).
"NIA takes over investigation of Pathankot Terror attacks." January 04, 2016. (accessed December 21, 2016).
"Update on investigation in Pathankot Terror attack." January 08, 2016. (accessed January 10, 2016).
Government of India, Press Information Bureau Ministry of Home Affairs. "Functioning of NIA." February 24, 2015. (accessed December 21, 2016).
Kumari, Sweety. "FBI team checks in on IS detainee in Kolkata." The Indian Express, December 09, 2016.
Published Date: 3rd January 2017, Image Source:

Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
13 + 7 =
Solve this simple math problem and enter the result. E.g. for 1+3, enter 4.
Contact Us