Atiq Ahmed: The brazen murder of an Indian mafia don-turned-politician

By Geeta PandeyBBC News, Delhi

1 hour ago

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Atiq Ahmed, a former MP and convicted criminal, was killed on Saturday night

It was all over in less than a minute.

Footage taken Saturday night shows mafia don-turned-politician Atiq Ahmed disembarking from a police jeep near a hospital in the town of Prayagraj, also known as Allahabad.

A burly man, Ahmed, a former MP and convicted criminal, is being helped down by a policeman and his brother Ashraf. The brothers are led by a chain attached to their handcuffs.

As they go, surrounded by a ring of police officers, they are besieged by local TV reporters – among them are gunmen pretending to be journalists.

A second later a gun is pulled to his head, his white turban falling off his head as he collapses to the ground. A moment later, his brother is also shot.

Two armed men and another man immediately surrendered to the police.

The Uttar Pradesh state government has ordered an investigation, but Saturday night’s daring killing has sparked a spate of criticism from major local and national politicians who say it shows law and order has broken down there.

Lawyer and politician Kapil Sibal said there had been “two murders” in Uttar Pradesh – “one of Atiq and Brother Ashraf and two of rule of law”.

Vikram Singh, former Director General of Uttar Pradesh State Police, told the BBC Ahmad’s killing was unacceptable. “Death in custody is bad enough, murder is worse,” he said.

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A forensic team examined the spot where the Ahmed brothers were killed

To say Ahmed was a controversial man would be an understatement.

Born into a poor family in Prayagraj, the 60-year-old was a high school dropout, but over the years he amassed tremendous wealth, enjoyed political patronage and power, and achieved immense influence in his native city and beyond.

From 1989 he was elected five times as a member of the State Assembly of the city and in 2004 he was also elected to the Parliament of the constituency of Phulpur.

Mr. Singh describes him as sort of “Robin Hood, a Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde, who has “spent generously to help poor people – paying for weddings, giving them money during the Eid festival, and helping poor women buy school uniforms and books for their children.”

But that persona broke up when Ahmed was accused of kidnapping, murder, extortion and land grabbing.

More than 100 cases have been registered against him and he is said to have been involved in as many others, “but the victims were too scared to file complaints,” he added.

For over two decades Ahmed was in prison but he maintained his influence over the Uttar Pradesh underworld and made sure his men were protected.

But after the regional Samajwadi party severed ties with him and the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata party came to power in the state, Ahmed’s influence began to wane.

He was arrested for assault in 2017 and later transferred to a prison in the western state of Gujarat.

The most recent action against him began in February when footage surfaced of a group of men killing Umesh Pal, a key witness to the 2005 assassination of Raju Pal, an MP belonging to the regional Bahujan Samaj party . The Ahmed brothers had been accused of involvement in Pal’s murder.

The videotaped killing in February set in motion a chain of events that has left Ahmed and several members of his family and supporters dead, his wife on the run with a bounty, two of his sons in prison and the remaining two sons who are minors housed in state shelters.

Ahmed was taken to Prayagraj to face charges in the case after India’s Supreme Court last month refused to hear his petition alleging his life had been threatened by police. His brother was also brought to the city from a prison in another county in the state.

On Thursday, his 19-year-old son Asad and an aide were killed by police in a so-called encounter – alleging they were shot during a planned execution.

Many parts of Prayagraj were a ghost town on Sunday morning. The main bazaars in the old city – usually bustling with activity at this time of year when Muslims celebrate the festival of Eid – were deserted.

Police cars and officials are on duty on almost every street. Internet services are down in most parts. And locals are reluctant to speak to the media or say anything about the killings.


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Asad, the teenage son of Atiq Ahmed, was killed by police on Thursday

A 40-year-old Muslim, who asked not to be named, told the BBC people were shocked.

“How can someone be killed in front of the media and the police? He was a convicted felon, I agree, but that doesn’t mean he can be shot like that. What about the rule of law?” he asked.

“Many of us wonder if he was killed because he was a Muslim. I don’t know if that’s true, but this incident has terrified the city. We deserve better.”

However, Mahant Raju Das, head of the Hanumangadhi Temple in the city of Ayodhya, said such incidents should not be viewed through a sectarian lens.

“Criminals have no religion or caste. I appeal to all politicians not to look at crime through a Hindu-Muslim lens,” he said, adding that “it is a regrettable incident and raises questions about the law and order of the state.”

“There are still so many mafias in the state. But they shouldn’t be killed like that, they should stay in jail to see their sins.”

Additional reporting by Ankit Srinivas from Prayagraj

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