As a major blow of embarrassment to National Investigation Agency (NIA), the accused Yusuf Chopan in the Pulwama terror case was granted bail just days after the attack's one year anniversary after the Central agency failed to file a chargesheet in the prescribed statutory period of 180 days.
The order was pronounced by an NIA court in Delhi's Patiala House on 18 February.
According to several media reports, Yusuf Chopan, is suspected of having provided logistical support to the Jaish-e-Mohammed terrorist. The JeM took responsibility for the attack and had even released a video of the attacker.
According to a report in Livelaw.in, "The application for bail was moved on the grounds that Chopan had been in custody for around 180 days and the investigating agency is yet to file a chargesheet despite the time for doing so having elapsed."
As per the court order, the NIA submitted that the statutory period of 180 days for investigation in respect to Chopan lapsed on 11 February, and that the chargesheet was not filed due to "insufficient evidence". However, further probe is underway, NIA added.
Additional Sessions Judge Parveen Singh granted bail to Chopan on a personal bond of Rs 50,000 and the condition that he would join the investigation as and when required and attend the court in accordance with the conditions of the bond.
Expressing shock over the incident, Congress leader Ahmed Patel said, "It's an insult to the martyrs. Clearly, the government used this tragic attack for political purposes and was never serious about justice."
Meanwhile, the NIA on Thursday denied reports that the court had granted bail to the accused. In a statement, the agency said the bail was granted to Yousuf Chopan, who had been arrested by the NIA in a terror conspiracy case, and not the February 2019 attack case.
The NIA spokesperon said Chopan was arrested in the case pertaining to a criminal conspiracy hatched by senior commanders of the Jaish-e-Mohammed terror group to carry out terror attacks in different parts of India, including Delhi-NCR.
Raising the bail to the accused, the Congress said it was an "insult" to the security personnel killed in the Pulwama terror attack and demanded Home Minister Amit Shah's resignation over it.
The NIA official said the agency had not filed charge sheet against Chopan in the JeM conspiracy case as enough evidence could not be gathered against him, resulting in his bail by a special court in Delhi.
"It is to clarify that Yousuf Chopan was never arrested in Pulwama attack case. However, he along with six others was arrested in the NIA case 08/2019/NIA/DLI (JeM Conspiracy case) in which two charge sheets were filed against eight accused (including two killed)," the agency statement said.
The agency said it had filed the charge sheets in the case against Sajad Ahmad Khan, Tanveer Ahmed Ganie, Bilal Ahmad Mir, Muzaffar Ahmad Bhat, Ishfaq Ahmad Bhat and Mehraj-ud-din Chopan, besides Mudassir Ahmad Khan and Kari Mufti Yaseer who were killed in an encounter with security forces. Mudassir Ahmad Khan, the mastermind behind the JeM conspiracy case who was also the main conspirators in the Pulwama attack case, was killed in an encounter.
"During the investigation in the JeM conspiracy case, seven over ground workers (OGWs) were arrested. However, out of which six accused were charge-sheeted in two charge sheets and Yousuf Chopan was not charge sheeted due to inadequate evidence," the NIA said.
As such Chopan has been granted default bail by special NIA court on February 18, 2020 and he has been sent back to Kot Bhalwal Jail, Jammu under Public Safety Act by the order of District Magistrate, Pulwama.
"Needless to say, NIA follows the policy of fairest possible investigation. In the Pulwama Attack Case 02/2019/NIA/JMU, in which 40 CRPF personnel were killed in the suicide attack, significant leads have emerged and a breakthrough in the case is expected shortly," it said.
Meanwhile, Congress chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala alleged that the Pulwama terror attack accused got bail as the National Investigation Agency (NIA) neither collected evidence nor filed a charge sheet.
"After taking political advantage of the Pulwama attack, forming government, now the Modi government does not care about the sacrifice of the country and the martyrs," he claimed. "Is this not 'treason'," he asked.
At a press conference, Congress spokesperson Pawan Khera claimed that the nationalism of the BJP stands exposed because the NIA has failed to charge sheet against terrorist Yousuf Chopan.
"Who will take responsibility for this. This was an attack on the country's honour. Accountability is a must," Khera said. "The BJP wasted no time to garner votes and shamelessly used the martyrdom of our soldiers," he claimed. "We demand the resignation of the Home Minister," Khera said.
On 14 February, 2019, a Jaish-e-Mohammed terrorist drove an explosive-laden SUV into a convoy of vehicles carrying paramilitary troops on the Srinagar-Jammu national highway in south Kashmir’s Pulwama district, killing at least 44 Central Reserve Police Force (CPRF) personnel and injuring another 20.
(With inputs from agencies)