The Karnataka Police claims to have found that one of those arrested by the Maharashtra ATS in connection with plotting terror attacks in the state was present in the vicinity of journalist Gauri Lankesh’s home on the day she was murdered, nearly a year ago. A Special Investigation Team (SIT) of the Karnataka Police, probing the September 5, 2017, murder, recently returned to CCTV footage from cameras located near Lankesh’s home, in Raja Rajeshwari Nagar area of Bengaluru, and reportedly found that a man resembling Sudhanva Gondhalekar was present there four hours before the killing.
Gondhalekar, 39, was arrested by the Maharashtra ATS on August 10. Believed to be associated with the radical right-wing Shri Shivpratishtan Hindustan and the Hindu Janagruti Samiti (HJS, an affiliate of the Sanatan Sanstha), Gondhalekar’s role is being investigated by the ATS in an alleged plot to carry out blasts in five Maharashtra cities. Confirming CCTV footage showing a person resembling Gondhalekar, an SIT official said, “We have sent it for analysis.” The SIT is likely to seek custody of Gondhalekar when his police custody in Maharashtra comes to an end. The SIT believes Gondhalekar and possibly an accomplice made a round of Lankesh’s home to ensure that the murder plan was on track, since a previous attempt to kill the journalist days earlier had failed.
The SIT now believes Gondhalekar, the owner of a design firm, was one of the “key persons” in the Lankesh murder. Sources said that 10 days after the killing, he had returned to Bengaluru to retrieve the guns used in the murder. These are alleged to have been stashed in a safe house, said to have been provided by a civil contractor from the Kunigal region of Karnataka, H L Suresh. The latter, also an activist of the HJS, is described as a “seeker” in a 2008 article by the HJS on a series of anti-terrorism exhibitions conducted by it, and is under arrest.
The SIT believes Gondhalekar was also closely associated with Amol Kale, 37, a Pune-based former HJS convenor, who is alleged to be the head of the covert group that carried out Lankesh’s murder. Kale was arrested on May 31, and the SIT claims to have found links between him and Gondhalekar through call records of Kale. Gondhalekar reportedly also appears in a diary Kale maintained, often in code, on the operations he was carrying out in Karnataka. SIT sources said Gondhalekar was referred to as “Pandey” and “Gujjar” in Kale’s diary and during his communications with gang members.
Gondhalekar could lead investigators to two guns reportedly used by the group to carry out four murders since 2013, sources said, including Lankesh’s. The SIT is hoping that the 7.65 mm country-made pistol used to kill the journalist could be part of the arms allegedly stockpiled by Gondhalekar, as claimed by the Maharashtra ATS. In a press release on August 11, the ATS had said it had seized 16 country-made pistols from multiple locations on the basis of Gondhalekar’s confession. Gondhakelar may have also provided shelter to another key suspect in the Lankesh murder case, Sujeet Kumar alias Praveen, 38, in Satara, at a friend’s place. Police had been looking for Sujeet, a former HJS activist, after making the first arrest in the murder case, of K T Naveen Kumar, in March this year. Sujeet is also under arrest now.