Kerala train arson: NIA yet to seek custody of accused Saifi; state police told to hand over details to central agency

The crime branch police superintendent in Malappuram told to hand over CDs, related records and seized properties to the NIA.

BySreerag PS

Published Apr 22, 2023 | 3:05 PMUpdatedApr 22, 2023 | 7:33 PM

Police officials inspecting the railway tracks after the train arson incident in Elathur. (Screengrab)

The National Investigation Agency (NIA) probing the 2 April train arson case in Kerala is yet to seek the custody of the accused.

Defence lawyer P Peethambaran said he was yet to receive any notice from the court regarding NIA’s plea for the custody of the accused, Shahrukh Saifi, 24, of Shaheen Bagh in Delhi.

“We have not received a notice from the court. We will surely be challenging the NIA’s plea, but most probably the court would allow NIA his custody,” Advocate Peethambaran, the chief defence counsel of Kerala State Legal Service Authority (KELSA), told South First

Saifi has been lodged in the Central Jail at Viyyur in Thrissur in judicial custody, which would end on 5 May.

Peethambaran said the accused told the magistrate that he was not facing any health issues.

He added that the accused person’s confession in custody would not have any legal validity in the court.

Related: Suspect Shahrukh arrested from Maharashtra’s Ratnagiri

NIA takes over probe 

Meanwhile, Kerala Director General of Police Anil Kant has directed the state Crime Branch to hand over the case details to the NIA.

In an order issued on Thursday, 20 April, the state police chief said sanction has been accorded to transfer the case, registered under various sections of the Indian Penal Code, Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), Railway Act, and Explosive Substance Act, to the NIA’s Kochi unit with immediate effect.

The Crime Branch police superintendent in Malappuram was directed to hand over the “CD files, connected records and properties of the case” to the central agency in due course of time, the order said.

The NIA took over the probe from the Kerala police on Tuesday, 18 April, two days after the accused was booked under the UAPA.

After invoking UAPA, ADGP (Law and Order) MR Ajit Kumar reportedly termed Saifi “a highly radicalised person who had been constantly watching the videos of preachers Zakir Naik and Israr Ahmed”.

Related: SIT formed to probe train arson case

State should protect legal rights

Earlier this week, the Left-leaning All India Lawyers Union (AILU) appealed to KELSA to reconsider its decision to provide legal aid to Saifi.

“The DLSA (District Legal Service Authority)’s decision to provide defence counsel to the accused in the train fire case should be reconsidered,” AILU state secretary CP Pramod said in a statement.

“The Elathur train arson incident is a terrorist act that has shocked the conscience of the society which has led to the death of three innocent people,” he added.

Responding, Advocate Peethambaran said the Indian Constitution ensures legal aid to all individuals.

“Whatever be the crime, the state must ensure that the accused receives legal aid,” he said.

Night of horror

Saifi allegedly set passengers on board the Alappuzha-Kannur Executive Express as the train was nearing the Korapuzha bridge after Elathur Railway Station in Kozhikode on 2 April night.

The "hue and cry" notice issued by the Shaheen Bagh police. (Supplied)

The “hue and cry” notice issued by the Shaheen Bagh police. (Supplied)

Nine people suffered injuries in the incident. Three others, including a toddler, were later found dead by the railway tracks.

The police said Rahmath Manikoth, 45, her two-year-old niece Zahra Bathool, and Noufeeq KP, 40 might have been killed while jumping off the moving train in a bid to escape the fire.

Authorities found the bodies after Sarafudeen Mampally of Pappinissery in Kannur had reported that his wife Rahmath and niece were missing.

He reported them missing after the train had reached Koyilandi (also Quilandy).

Noufeeq, a seller of dry fish, was returning to his residence in Mattannur, Kannur, after attending a religious function.

Saifi reportedly travelled on the same train and hid near the Kannur Railway Station and boarded the Ernakulam-Ajmer Maru Sagar Express a little past midnight.

He reportedly jumped off the train near Ratnagiri in Maharashtra and suffered injuries. Though he was taken to the Civil Hospital there, he left the hospital to continue his journey to Ajmer.

However, the Special Task Force of the Maharashtra Police picked him up at the railway station and handed him over to the Kerala Police.

Police under fire

The Kerala Police’s handling of the case invited criticism from several quarters after the SUV ferrying Saifi to Kozhikode first lost its way in Kannur and then ended up with a flat tyre.

A replacement police vehicle arranged developed a technical snag and failed to start. Later, he was shifted to Kozhikode in a Maruti Wagon R.

A food packet found in Saifi’s backpack has sparked suspicion that he was not acting alone. The accused claimed that the food was packed at his Delhi home. However, the food was not stale.

Saifi, who had been helping his father in carpentry, had gone missing from Delhi on 31 March. Based on his family’s complaint, the Shaheen Bagh police issued a ‘hue and cry’ notice to trace the man on 2 April.

A few hours later, he set the passengers on fire.

(With PTI inputs)