Indian fugitives found surprisingly close at hand

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The Independent Online

The authorities in Delhi have been forced to admit to an embarrassing mistake after it emerged several individuals included on a "most-wanted fugitives" list handed to Pakistan were actually living in India.

In the days following this month's operation by US special forces to kill Osama bin Laden, India revealed that it had previously handed to Pakistan a list of criminal suspects who it claimed were also living across the border. With Pakistan facing widespread allegations that elements within the establishment may have helped harbour the al-Qa'ida leader, India was seeking to heap further pressure on its long-term rival.

But, after news of the list of the 50 "most wanted" emerged, Indian media organisations started checking the details and coming up with some intriguing discoveries.

Among those included on the list and alleged to be living in Pakistan, was Wazhul Kamar Khan, accused of involvement in a bomb attack on a Mumbai train in 2003 in which 11 people were killed and more than 80 were injured.

But it transpired that, while Mr Khan was arrested last year, he was subsequently released on bail and continued to live at his mother's house in a neighbourhood of Mumbai where he had stayed for many years.

Just a few days later, it emerged another suspect included on the list and said to be taking refuge in Pakistan was actually in an Indian jail awaiting trial. Feroz Abdul Rashid Khan, who is also accused of involvement in the 2003 train bombing, was arrested last year and is behind bars in Mumbai's Arthur Road jail. There is a suggestion that a third individual on the list is living not in Pakistan but in the United Arab Emirates.

The political opposition has made merry with the foul-up, describing it as a "monumental error" and demanding action. Pakistan – perhaps to rub salt into Delhi's wounds – chose to play matters rather more coolly, with its Interior Minister Rehman Malik saying it was not a "big issue". "Let us forget about it, and move forward sincerely to enhance friendship between Pakistan and India," he wrote on Twitter,.

The Congress Party-led government eventually called for a review of the list and decided to withdraw it. The Central Bureau of Investigation has now taken it down from its website pending revision. This weekend, the Home Affairs Minister, P Chidambaram, said the revelation had been a "wake-up call" to the investigative agencies, but he refused to offer an apology.

"I don't think this is a case where we owe anyone an apology. If we owe a regret, it's the regret that we have expressed – that there was a genuine human error in not updating the list," he told an Indian television channel. "To that extent I think we have expressed regret, and we remain regretful."

The minister rejected suggestions that the error may cause Pakistan to dismiss India's repeated requests to hand over militant suspects New Delhi believes are in that country.

"I don't think it damages credibility. I think it is a wake-up call for the agencies to become more professional," he told the CNN-IBN channel.