Abdul Rashid Ajmeri, 60, accused by the Ahmedabad Detection of Crime Branch (DCB) of carrying out the 2002 terror attack on Akshardham temple in Gandhinagar, was arrested on Saturday morning, moments after he landed at Ahmedabad’s Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel International Airport from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
Ajmeri’s arrest — he is the ninth accused to be arrested — comes three years after all the others arrested in the case were acquitted and the Supreme Court set aside the Gujarat Police’s DCB, Ahmedabad, investigation.
Ajmeri is one of 28 people accused by the DCB of carrying out the September 24, 2002, attack on the Akshardham temple in which more than 30 people were killed. While eight of them went on trial, the DCB declared 20 of the accused, including Ajmeri, absconders.
In 2006, a special POTA court had convicted six of the accused and sentenced Ajmeri’s brother Adam and Abdul Kayum to death while awarding jail terms ranging from 10 years to life to Mohd Hanif Shaikh, Abdullamiya Yasinmiya Kadri, Altaf Hussain Malek and Shaanmiya Sajjadkhan alias Chandkhan. The High Court had confirmed the POTA court’s judgment.
However, in May 2014, the Supreme Court set aside the DCB investigation and acquitted all six persons who had been convicted by the POTA court. Months after this judgment, the trial court acquitted two others, Hyderabad-based Shaukatullah Ghori and Ahmedabad-based Majid Patel.
According to the DCB chargesheet, Ajmeri’s name figured in the testimony of one Asfaq Abdulla Bhavnagari, who worked in Riyadh and knew Ajmeri and who allegedly claimed in his statement that Ajmeri hatched the conspiracy from Riyadh. The apex court, however, held that Bhavnagari’s testimony was concocted.
According to the DCB chargesheet, the Akshardham attack was carried out to allegedly avenge the post-Godhra riots. As part of the plan, the chargesheet said, two fidayeens were allegedly given shelter and logistics in Gujarat. The DCB chargesheeted 28 persons, 20 of whom were declared absconders. DCB officials said that 19 of the accused are still at large.
Deputy Commissioner of Police (DCB) Deepan Bhadran said, “Ajmeri had tried to come to Ahmedabad on more than a couple of occasions. We had information that he was trying to come back again.”
Another officer of the DCB said, “Ajmeri has been maintaining that this was his first visit to India in 22 years and that he had come down to see his family. He told us he didn’t expect that the police case would still be on.”
Advocate Khalid Shaikh, who has represented some of the accused who later got acquitted, said, “Technically, Ajmeri will have to face all the procedures, including the trial. But police may even close the case in view of the Supreme Court judgment.”
Police, however, said Ajmeri could be tried for being an absconder.