After a two-week hunt spanning multiple districts of Karnataka and neighbouring Kerala, the Dakshina Kannada police Thursday arrested three men who allegedly attacked and killed BJP youth leader Praveen Nettaru in the district last month.
The three accused are: Shihabuddin alias Shihab, 33, an agricultural product supplier; Riyaz Ankathadka, 27, a chicken supplier; and Bashir, 29, a hotel worker. They hail from Sullia and Puttur regions of Dakshina Kannada.
“Today morning, the Dakshina Kannada police arrested the assailants who carried out the murder on July 26. They were arrested near Talapady check post (on the Kerala border),” Karnataka Additional Director General of Police (Law and Order) Alok Kumar said.
“We were aware of their identities and had gathered information about them but they were constantly on the run and hiding in different places and so there was also a delay in their arrest,” the ADGP said. Thursday’s arrests took the total number of arrests in the murder case to 10.
Seven persons were arrested earlier by the Dakshina Kannada police for allegedly providing logistical support for the murder in Bellare village, including the identification of Nettaru as a target.
Some of the accused persons have links to the Popular Front of India and the Social Democratic Party of India and these links are being further investigated, said the police official.
“From day one we have been saying that the role of the PFI and SDPI is suspected. We also have some evidence now but we cannot say anything on this basis alone. This will have to be further investigated and brought by the investigating officer,” the ADGP said.
“We also have to find out why the murder was carried out. We have a vague idea of why it was done. We cannot go by a vague idea. The NIA is also working with us. We were waiting for the completion of the investigations to hand over the case,” he said.
The ADGP indicated that the planning began around a week before the incident. Another killing that occurred in Bellare village on July 19, of a Muslim youth named Masood B, has been speculated to be the point of origin of the Nettaru murder plan.
“We knew who all were in the team to carry out the murder from the time conspiracy began (around 7 to 10 days earlier). We have arrested the seven others for assisting the main accused in the recce and providing logistics,” Kumar said.
One of the accused arrested for providing logistical support knew the BJP leader well, police said. “Shafiq’s father Ibrahim used to work for Praveen. He was employed in the Akshaya Fresh Farm Chicken Shop until three months prior to the murder. Shafiq knew Praveen very well and this helped in carrying out the recce,” the police official said.
“Soon after the murder, they escaped to Kasargod to a masjid on the Bekal road. One black color Splendor was used for the murder. A total of six vehicles, five motorcycles, and one Alto car were used,” the ADGP said.
“We have to seize the vehicles and the weapons. We have to look at the financing, harbouring, and sheltering part of the crime. We are working to seize the properties of the persons accused of very serious crimes,” Kumar said.
Three days after the murder, on July 29, the Karnataka government decided to hand over the investigations of the case to the National Investigation Agency. The Karnataka police however continued the investigations after obtaining leads on the assailants.
“Once we have finished our investigations we will transfer our case files to the NIA. We will hand over the case after we carry out a thorough investigation of the three men who have now been arrested. This would take about two to three days,” the ADGP said.
While the accused were initially believed to have come from neighbouring Kerala. the probe by the Dakshina Kannada police has revealed that all the accused belong to the Sullia and Puttur region. Some accused, however, were employed in other places.
After the Nettaru murder, the BJP’s higher education minister in Karnataka, C N Ashwathnarayan, referred to the possible use of police encounters against the assailants. This came after BJP supporters and right-wing workers expressed anger against the BJP state leadership.
Karnataka Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai also referred to the use of the “Yogi model” to tackle the law and order situation in Karnataka.