On November 20, Delhi police issued an advisory asking public to keep a lookout for two men and alert SHO Paharganj in case any of them was spotted. “If you spot or get information regarding any of these men, send an alert by calling the numbers below…” was the message placed across Paharganj area. According to media reports, the police put out the alert on the likely presence of two Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) ‘terrorists’ suspected to have infiltrated the national capital.

Credit: NDTV

In the poster, two men wearing salwar kameez and skull caps can be seen posing against a milestone in Urdu that reads – “Delhi 360 km, Ferozepore 9 km.” This points at the possibility of the photograph being taken in Pakistan.

The police alert came at the backdrop of counter-intelligence wing of Punjab police issuing an alert the week before on a possible infiltration by 6-7 members of terror outfit JeM in Ferozepore.

The police advisory was reported by newsrooms across India.

Students, not terrorists?

In a bizarre turn of events and after the alert was broadly circulated owing to widespread media attention, the two men – Tayyab and Nadeem – came forward to refute allegations of the Delhi police and claimed that they were students of an Islamic seminary in Faisalabad district of Punjab, Pakistan. Holding a press conference, the men said, “This photograph was clicked during Raiwind Ijtema held from November 9 to 11. It was a weekend when we had gone toward Lahore and while returning we decided to watch the parade at the (India-Pak) border. After watching the parade we took a photo posing next to the milestone. This was uploaded on social media.”

Alt News found that an Ijtema was indeed held in Pakistan’s Raiwind during the time period mentioned by the men. The event was also covered by local media. Ijtema is an Islamic congregation held worldwide and attended by millions of Muslims.

We also found that the two men had posed in front of the milestone at Ganda Singh Wala Kasur border in Punjab, Pakistan that lies on the border with Eastern Pakistan, India. This used to be a primary crossing point between the neighbouring countries in the 1960s and 1970s. But now remains closed and plans to reopen it in 2005 were unsuccessful, therefore, one cannot cross the Kasur border to enter the Indian side.

Pakistani media reports Delhi police’s ‘faux pas’

Following the press conference, the incident was widely reported in Pakistani media as India’s wrongful dubbing of the country’s students as terrorists.

Pakistani media came down heavily upon India’s “terror bogey” as security in important government offices, including the Prime Minister’s Office and the Defence Ministry was tightened following the Delhi police advisory.

Cops take down posters in a hush-hush manner

Following the press conference, the Delhi police quietly removed the advisory spread across the city. On November 28, Navbharat Times published a report titled – “Posters of ‘terrorists’ that were put up in every corner were removed by the police at night”. According to the media outlet, intelligence agencies had forwarded the photograph to Delhi police for internal monitoring, however, the cops acted prematurely and made them public.

Navbharat Times also reported that according to sources, intelligence agencies keep a track on WhatsApp, Facebook and other social media groups. The photograph of the two Pakistani men resting against the milestone was discovered while monitoring chats. Since one of the places mentioned on the milestone was ‘Delhi’, intelligence agencies asked the police to keep a lookout. However, the cops went overboard with placing posters across the city in hotels, gas stations, etc.

The Delhi Police Special Cell, however, denied that the men were ‘students’. According to Navbharat Times, the cell claimed to have ‘concrete proof’ that they were terrorists. However, due to some undisclosed reasons, the cell denied presenting further information on the case.

When Alt News tried to contact Delhi Police to question their reasons behind taking down the posters, our calls were transferred from one officer to the other, with none providing answers.

On November 29, The Print published statements of two Special Cell officers. While one of them said that the advisory was taken down because the men had gone back to Pakistan, the other officer claimed that the men never crossed the border. However, both maintained that the initial intel about them planning to infiltrate into India was genuine.

Speaking to Hindustan Times, Delhi police public relation officer, deputy commissioner of police Madur Verma said that the poster was a “classified input shared by the superior agencies”.

“Agencies concerned had conveyed to us that these two men could create trouble and because we wanted to sensitise people in a specific area, the posters were put up. Posters were removed after the purpose was served. Such inputs are meant for a specific time duration and a particular area. It is a usual exercise,” DCP Verma said.

It is indisputable that posters of alleged ‘terrorists’ placed across the city were a cause for panic; even more so around the anniversary of 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks. However, the police statements fail to give a clear picture of what exactly went wrong.

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About the Author

Pooja Chaudhuri is a senior editor at Alt News.