Six days after a Bible prayer group was attacked, the Kolhapur police made its first arrests, with five persons from Belgaum in Karnataka booked under various sections of IPC.
Two of those arrested also reportedly confessed to having been involved in a similar attack in 2016, when a group of men from Belgaum had targeted a Christian at Chandgad in Kolhapur.
On Friday, the Kolhapur police released a statement identifying the men as Ajay Appaji Patil (23), Gajanan Patil (23), Amol Mudgekar (22), Mahesh Patil (23) and Gopal Kalkamkar (20), and confirmed that they are Belgaum residents.
“They came together, taking the same route before the attack, but after that they scrambled and took several routes to enter Belgaum, Karnataka. We sourced CCTV footage from all possible outlets at the access ends at Belgaum to track these bikes and bikers,” said Kolhapur SP Abhinav Deshmukh.
On November 23, Bhimsen and Swati Chavan, a couple who call themselves “believers” and “healers”, was targeted when a group of men on eight bikes barged into their homes with beer bottles, swords and iron daggers and started attacking a group of worshippers who had gathered in their house. The couple have been conducting the prayer meet for over a decade, and are known to host people from poor and marginalised families during their sessions on Sundays.
According to the police, the men have prima facie given leads that the attack was “pre-planned and specific”. The police are also looking out for six others who are absconding. The probe rests on CCTV footage of the neighbouring state, as the men allegedly made their way through sugarcane belts of Kowad, and back to Belgaum. “Some human inputs from Belgaum helped too,” said Deshmukh.
Soon after the attack, five teams scattered across the eastern region of Maharashtra chasing all entry points to Belgaum. CCTV cameras at private establishments at all entry roads of Belgaum picked up the urgency of specific bikes and their number plates, said investigators.
The police will now expand the probe to look for leads to the 2016 attack, when more than 50 unidentified men had similarly crossed the border and attacked a Christian. “The people who gathered at the Bible prayer meet were not from Kovad. They had travelled from far. The men who attacked might have heard of them as word travels fast in the rural belt. These men had done a recee as they knew how to exit,” said Deshmukh.
“We can say, prima facie, the attack was targeting a religious assembly and not just one person. That should be a good start for our probe,” he added.