The family of Kashmiri trader Bilal Kawa, recently arrested in New Delhi for his alleged involvement in the Red Fort terror attack, says he’s innocent and was framed.
Srinagar: The family members of 34-year-old Bilal Ahmad Kawa, who was arrested on the evening of January 10 from New Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport for his alleged involvement in the Red Fort terror attack in 2000, claim that Kawa was not ‘absconding’ and has been illegally arrested and framed. They said he had all along been living in his home in Aali Kadel area of downtown Srinagar with his old mother, wife and two school-going kids enrolled in a city school. They also criticised the Delhi media for branding him a “terrorist”.
As per his family, Kawa was visiting Delhi for a heart check-up on the advice of his doctor. He was to stay with his brother, Niyaz Ahmad, who has a flat in Delhi and is settled there with his wife and children for about two decades now, they said. His family said Kawa was only a teenager at the time of the Red Fort attack which took place on December 22, 2000, claiming the lives of two soldiers and a civilian.
Since the arrest of Kawa, relatives and neighbours continue to pour in to express their sympathy with the family at their two-storey old house in downtown Srinagar, close to a CRPF bunker. “If he was a terrorist, as they are saying, why would he travel with his Aadhaar card and book air tickets in his own name,” said his mother, Fatima, who’s inconsolable since she heard the news of her son’s arrest at the Delhi airport. “He could have changed his name or gone underground in all these years since 2000. Why would he openly live with his family if he was ‘absconding’? Why didn’t the police arrest him here in all these years if he was involved in the attack?” she wailed.
Demanding his immediate release, his family members said Kawa had been working for decades in leather trade along with his brother whom he was going to meet on January 10, when was arrested in a joint operation by special cell of Delhi police and Gujarat ATS upon his arrival in Delhi from Srinagar.
On Friday, Kawa’s family staged a protest in city’s Press Colony, calling for his release and blaming the Delhi-based media for branding him as a ‘terrorist”.
A news report headlined ‘Gujarat ATS arrests LeT terrorist involved in 2000 Red Fort attack’, which was published on January 10, described Kawa as a “Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorist who was involved in an attack on the Red Fort in 2000,” further adding that “Bilal had been on the run for a long time.”
“He was carrying only homemade collards and bread. This is totally baseless that he had come to perform a major attack ahead on January 26,” Fatima said during the protest. “I am unable to understand to how he could have carried any attack with eatables? Was he carrying any ammunition?” she added.
The family claimed the police station in their area had also informed the local media that Kawa didn’t have a criminal record and that no case had been registered against him till date. Officials from the nearest police station – Mahraj Gung in Zaina Kadel – told The Wire that there was no case or FIR concerning terror case against Kawa in their station.
“If he was planning some attack, as the Delhi media claims, why would he travel on his own name and carry vegetables and bakery items from home?” said his younger sister, adding that Kawa had been visiting Delhi every winter to meet his brother and his family. “If he was involved in any terror activity, the police would have easily arrested him here at his home in the past 17 years. Where were they in all these years and why has he been arrested now from Delhi?” she said.
The family said Kawa’s elder brother Niyaz Ahmad, whom he was visiting on January 10, has been based in Delhi since 1994 and has a flat in Chamelian Road, Filmistan, near Sadar Bazar. “He wanted to give his brother a surprise as he was carrying for him some Kashmiri bread, Harisa and Haak (collard greens) which he liked….” she said, wiping her tears. Photographs of the food items that Kawa was carrying from his home on the day of his arrest later emerged on social media.
His sister also pointed out that the photograph of Kawa, which was released to the media in Delhi after his arrest, was a cropped version of the original photo in which he was flanked by his daughter. The original photograph is available on the social media, the family said. “The photo that was released to the media in Delhi was actually in Niyaz Ahmad’s phone gallery and the actual photograph shows his daughter and was taken last year in an ice cream parlour here in Khayam area of city,” says his sister. She questioned the the release of this particular photo to the media. “If he was such a big terrorist as they are claiming, why they didn’t have his earlier photos?”
Fearing for their son’s safety and security, Kawa’s family members are unable to fathom how he could be absconding “when he was living here with his family all these years near a big CRPF bunker closer to our home?”
“We want him to be released and brought back home soon…We don’t know what will happen to him ahead of January 26 (Republic Day),” they said.
Majid Maqbool is a journalist and editor based in Srinagar, Kashmir.