Over 14 years after the Gujarat riots, the Anti-Terrorist Squad (ATS) on Wednesday arrested Farooq Mohammed Bhana, alleged to be a key conspirator in the attack on the Sabarmati Express at Godhra railway station.
Fifty-nine people, mostly kar sevaks returning from Ayodhya, were killed when a coach (S-6) of the Sabarmati Express was set on fire at Godhra on February 27, 2002. The incident triggered widespread communal riots across the state.
Acting on a tip-off, an ATS team arrested Bhana, who is in his mid-50s, from the Kalol-Khadki toll plaza in Panchmahal district, where he was meeting his family. His wife and children were with him at the time of his arrest.
Addressing a press conference, Inspector General (IG) of ATS J K Bhatt said, “Bhana was on the run since 2002. He was a corporator of Polan-Bazar area of Godhra when the incident took place. It is alleged that on the night of February 26, Bhana and others held a meeting at Aman Guest House near the railway station as part of their conspiracy to set ablaze the S6 coach of the train.”
“He fled Godhra and joined an Islamic organisation which has international presence. He wandered with the group to different places in the country and lived in mosques for at least four years,” said an ATS official.
Bhatt said that Bhana also went to Pakistan. But for the last 10 years of so, he is reported to have been living in a Mumbai slum, where he reportedly took commission for helping the residents make ration cards and other documents.
In the last one year, he reportedly met his family at least three times, at different locations in Panchmahal district.
According to Bhatt, at the meeting held a day before the Sabarmati Express was attacked, Bhana communicated a specific instruction of Maulana Husain Umerji to set ablaze the S6 coach. Maulana Umerji, who was arrested as the alleged mastermind behind the incident, was later released, as no concrete evidence was found against him during the trial.
“Those who attended the meeting include one Salim Panwala, who used to do black marketing in railway tickets, guest house owner Abdul Razak and another corporator Bilal Haji among others. As decided at the meeting, the coach was set ablaze by the mob,” said Bhatt.
A total of 94 people were charged by the Supreme Court-appointed Special Investigation Team which probed the case. In 2011, 31 people were convicted while the rest were acquitted. While 11 were sentenced to death, the others were given life imprisonment.