Four missing members of Hindutva outfit Abhinav Bharat, all wanted for blasts in the Samjhauta Express, Mecca Masjid, Ajmer Dargah and Malegaon between 2006 and 2008, trained several suspects linked to the Sanatan Sanstha in making bombs at secret training camps across the country between 2011-2016, the investigation by the Karnataka Police into the murder of journalist Gauri Lankesh has revealed. This disclosure is part of documents submitted by the SIT to a Bengaluru court.
In the 2008 Malegaon blasts case, Pragya Singh Thakur, the BJP’s Bhopal Lok Sabha candidate, is an accused along with 13 others, including two missing Abhinav Bharat members, Ramji Kalsangra and Sandeep Dange, who have been declared “proclaimed offenders”.
According to documents submitted in court by the Karnataka SIT probing the Lankesh case, three men linked to Sanatan Sanstha, and arrested in the Lankesh murder case, and four witnesses, who attended the training camps, described the presence of a “Babaji” and four “Gurujis” at the camps where training was given in making bombs.
The “Babaji” was identified after his arrest in November 2018 — 11 years after he went into hiding — in Gujarat as Suresh Nair, an Abhinav Bharat member accused in the 2007 Ajmer dargah blast case.
Nair’s arrest has also revealed that the three other bomb experts at Sanstha-linked camps were Dange, Kalsangara and Ashwini Chauhan — all “proclaimed offenders” in the Samjhauta Express case and four other blast cases, said sources.
A fifth trainer who attended the camps has been identified by those arrested in the Lankesh case as Prathap Hazra, who is linked to the Hindutva outfit Bhavani Sena of West Bengal.
Links between missing suspects from bombings tied to Abhinav Bharat between 2006 and 2008, which killed 117 people, and the members of a group associated with the Lankesh murder have unravelled in recent months in the course of the SIT probe.
Based on descriptions provided by those arrested in the Lankesh case and witnesses who saw the “bomb experts”, sketches of the “guest trainers” were prepared by the SIT and their possible locations were identified through technical analysis.
And on the information provided by the SIT, Nair, who police believe was “Babaji” in the training camps was arrested by the Gujarat ATS in Bharuch in November 2018. When Nair was shown portraits of the other trainers at camps, he identified them as Dange, Kalsangara and Amit Hakla alias Ashwini Chauhan, said sources.
Dange, a former RSS worker who is considered a bomb expert and has an Interpol red corner notice against him, is on the most wanted list of the NIA with Kalsangara and Hakla. Dange and Kalsangara carry a Rs 10 lakh reward on their heads while Hakla carries a Rs 5 lakh reward on his head.
Following Nair’s arrest, NIA sources said Dange and Kalsangara were still hiding in India and that efforts were on to arrest them.
The descriptions for “Babaji” were provided in the course of the Lankesh case probe by three arrested men Shrikant Pangarkar, 40, a former Shiv Sena councillor from Maharashtra, Sharad Kalaskar, 26, who is also the alleged shooter in the 2013 Narendra Dabholkar murder case, and Vasudev Suryavanshi, 29, a mechanic who allegedly stole motorcycles for a series of Sanatan linked murders of rationalists and free thinkers between 2015 and 2017.
The SIT has found that 19 training camps were organised by the Sanatan Sanstha linked group in the usage of firearms, improvised explosive devices and subterfuge tactics across India between 2011 and 2017 with the five IED experts attending five of the camps in Maharashtra, Gujarat and Karnataka as “guest trainers”.
According to statements provided by suspects and witnesses in the Lankesh case, some trainers like “Babaji” moved around in the garb of monks. Each trainer, sources said, had his own area of expertise ranging from petrol bombs to sophisticated pipe bombs with electrical circuits – on the lines of mobile phone triggered IEDs used in some of the blasts that occurred between 2006-08.
Giving descriptions of four trainers who he saw at IED camps held at Ahmedabad and Mangalore, an accused in the Lankesh case described them as “Babaji Sir”, “Circuit Expert Sir”, “Bengali” and “Lambu Sir”.’ Another suspect describes two trainers at another camp in Jalna as “Babaji” and “Guruji”.
According to the case documents the camps provided training to dozens of people recruited by a covert unit of the Sanatan Sanstha linked to the murders of the rationalist Dabholkar, leftist thinker Govind Pansare, Kannada scholar M M Kalburgi and Gauri Lankesh.
The suspects in the Lankesh and other murder cases who attended the IED training camps are Amit Degwekar, Kalaskar, Pangarkar, Suryavanshi, Ganesh Miskin, Amit Baddi and Bharat Kurne. Four men who were part of the group – currently considered witnesses in the Lankesh case – also attended some of the camps.
As many as five “training camps” – Jalna in 2011, Jalna in January 2015, Mangalore in August 2015, Ahmedabad in November 2015 and Nasik in January 2016 – were held by suspects from Abhinav Bharat, the SIT investigation has revealed.