A day after Taloja Central Jail became the arena of an underworld gunfight with inmate Abu Salem in the crosshairs, cops are treading a mire of hypotheses to haul out the men and motives behind Thursday’s shenanigans.
To arrive at the truth, the Navi Mumbai police have applied for the custody of Devendra Jagtap, who fired at the 1993 blasts convict on Thursday evening inside the Navi Mumbai prison, for reasons yet to emerge clearly.
Investigators have also started the hunt for the person who supplied the country-made pistol to Jagtap, a Bharat Nepali gang member accused of murdering lawyer Shahid Azmi.
Navi Mumbai additional commissioner of police Fatesingh Patil said, “On Thursday evening, Jagtap returned from a sessions court in Mumbai, where he had been taken by the jail authorities for a hearing in a robbery case.” After he returned to jail, nobody checked on him. Around 8.30 pm he was making his way towards the barracks when he saw Salem resting close by, and fired thrice from the country-made pistol he had been hiding under his shirt.
“One bullet missed Salem, the other brushed one of his right-hand fingers and the third was locked inside the pistol,” said Patil. Rattled by the gunfire, constable Gitesh Randive who had brought Jagtap back to the prison, rushed to the spot and nabbed him. The Navi Mumbai police booked him for attempting murder and possessing a weapon illegally, they seized the pistol.
“A case has been registered in Kharghar police station under IPC section 307 (attempt to murder) and sections of the Arms Act. We have asked for Jagtap’s custody to interrogate him about where he got the pistol,” said Patil.
For now, the task before cops is to cull out the lies from the contrasting statements made by the hired gun. It has been learnt that Jagtap told the police that he got the pistol from one Manoj Lahamani around five months ago, and had since kept it in jail with him. “But he might be misguiding them since it is virtually impossible for an inmate to keep a pistol for so long without raising suspicion. We think he got it on Thursday itself,” a source said.
But at one time, he mutated his statement and claimed the revolver made its way to Taloja on Thursday, in a cake brought to celebrate his mentor Santosh Shetty’s birthday.
Police speculate that internal gang rivalry may have played a part in the firing, since Jagtap used to work for Salem’s gangland rival Bharat Nepali, who is no more. Sources said Salem had plans to join hands with don Chhota Rajan, a move that did not sit well with D-Company, which might then have hatched a plan to finish him off.
At the same time, the premise that Salem might have stage-managed the shootout targeting himself has not been ruled out. He was brought back to the country under a deportation treaty with Portugal, which has now been repealed by the Portuguese judiciary, and the authorities there might put pressure on India to send Salem back, as he was arrested in the European country for possessing a fake passport.
The fact that Jagtap, a hit man, missed the mark only fuels this theory. Cops are asking how a sharpshooter like him can miss his target from a close range of around six feet.
To strengthen his defence, Salem has made the claim that he missed the bullet as it pierced a pile of papers beside which he was resting after dinner. Sources said he had already given an application to jail authorities stating that he was under threat from Jagtap.
Salem has been convicted in the 1993 Mumbai serial blasts case, and over 50 other cases including the murders of music baron Gulshan Kumar in 1997, actor Manisha Koirala’s secretary Ajit Diwan, and a builder.