The Karnataka SIT, probing the September 5, 2017 murder of journalist Gauri Lankesh, Wednesday denied mentioning any link between the suspects in the case and missing suspects from Abhinav Bharat. “SIT has not found in its investigation or mentioned in the chargesheet any link to Sadhvi Pragya/ Malegaon blasts/ Abhinav Bharat. There is no shred of evidence to suggest the same. No documents purporting the same have been submitted to the Hon’ble Court,” the SIT said.
However, an analysis of statements of three persons accused in the Lankesh murder case, and the statements of four persons being treated as witnesses, which are part of a supplementary chargesheet filed in a special court in Bengaluru by the SIT, reveals that four experts — from outside the extremist group that is accused of the murder — provided training in camps where bomb-making was taught to recruits of the group.
Although the four outside experts remained unidentified and were only known by nicknames when the SIT filed its supplementary chargesheet in the Lankesh case on November 23, 2018, the names of the four men emerged after the arrest of one of the men ‘Babaji Sir’ or ‘Bade Babaji’ by the Gujarat ATS on November 25, 2018 in Gujarat. ‘Babaji Sir’ was identified as Suresh Nair, a member of the Abhinav Bharat group and an accused in the Ajmer dargah blast of 2007, Karnataka police sources said.
The arrest of Suresh Nair revealed the identities of the three other bomb experts who provided training at Sanatan Sanstha-linked camps: Ramji Kalsangra, Sandeep Dange and Amit Chauhan alias Hakla, police sources said. Kalsangra and Dange are accused along with Pragya Singh Thakur in the 2008 Malegaon blast case. Thakur is the BJP’s candidate from Bhopal for the Lok Sabha polls.
Though the SIT chargesheet mentions no link between the Abhinav Bharat and Sanatan Sanstha, it has multiple references to the four guest trainers in bomb-making at the camps.
On Page 6 of the continuation to Column 7 of the main chargesheet filed by the SIT in the Lankesh murder case, the SIT has provided a table of training camps held by members of the Sanatan Sanstha-linked crime syndicate allegedly involved in the murder of the journalist.
The table indicates that 19 training camps were conducted between 2010 and 2017 by members of the group at various places around the country and that as many as five camps involved training in bomb-making.
Details of participants at these training camps — including the five guest “trainers” — emerge from statements provided to the SIT by three persons arrested in the Lankesh case who participated in these training camps and four witnesses who were part of the training camps.
The statements are annexed to the main chargesheet filed in a special KCOCA court by the SIT on November 23, 2018. From an analysis of the statements and the details of the various training camps, it is apparent that the guest “trainers” attended only the camps where training in bomb-making was provided.
“The members of this crime syndicate were continuously provided various kinds of training in the making and usage of weapons and explosives at many places. Local members of the syndicate took up the responsibility of organizing these training camps at the different locations. A-5 Amit Degwekar and A-8 Rajesh Bangera were trainers the investigation has revealed,” states Column 7 of the chargesheet.
Enclosed in the annexures in the SIT chargesheet in the Lankesh case on a page marked as 2716 in a copy of the full chargesheet — it runs over 10,000 pages — is a document, Panchnama Form No 74/2018 dated October 4, 2018, sent to a magistrate after portraits of four bomb trainers were created on the basis of descriptions given by Sharad Kalaskar, 24, a member of the crime syndicate after his arrest in the Lankesh case.
Kalaskar who attended training camps of the syndicate is also accused in the murder of the Maharashtra rationalist Narendra Dabholkar in Pune in 2013 and has provided details of guest trainers at Sanatan Sanstha-linked camps to the CBI as well.
In the PF No 74/2018 dated October 4, 2018, the SIT has reported the creation of eight portraits — one pencil drawing and one colour picture each — of four unidentified trainers described as ‘Lambu Sir’, ‘Babaji Sir’, ‘Circuit Expert Sir’ and ‘Bangali Person’ who provided training at a camp in Jalna, Maharashtra in January 2015, Ahmedabad, Gujarat in November 2015 and at Dharamsthala, Karnataka in August 2015.
The report of the panchnama witnesses — No 356 and 357 — for the creation of the portraits and other drawings which is presented from pages marked as 2719 onwards in the chargesheet annexure says in it background statement: “We began the panchnama at 10.30 am. Training sessions were held in January 2015 in Jalna Maharashtra and in November 2015 in Ahmedabad, Gujarat. Three ‘Sirs’ participated in the training on making and exploding country bombs, petrol bombs, blasting grenades and pipe bombs using electrical circuits. Another person provided training at another camp held near Dharamsthala, Karnataka in August 2015 in making pipe bombs and country bombs.”
The panchnama document says that Kalaskar stated that the ‘Bangali Person’ who provided training in the August 2015 training camp at Dharamsthala in Karnataka came to the camp with a man from West Bengal identified as Prathap Hazra. The man identified as Hazra by Kalaskar is believed to be a leader of the Bhavani Sena group which is active in West Bengal, police sources said.
The panchnama prepared on the basis of descriptions provided by Kalaskar puts the man called ‘Lambu Sir’ as being around six feet tall and 40-45 years of age, ‘Babaji Sir’ as 5.7 feet tall and around 55-60 years of age, ‘Circuit Expert Sir’ as being around 5.8 feet tall and 30-35 years of age and the ‘Bangali Person’ as being around 5.8 feet tall and 22-24 years of age.
The descriptions for the ‘Babaji’ or ‘Bade Babaji’ have also been provided in the course of the Lankesh case probe by Shrikant Pangarkar, 40, a former Shiv Sena councillor from Maharashtra, and Vasudev Suryavanshi, 29, a mechanic who allegedly stole motorcycles for a series of Sanatan-linked murders of rationalists and free thinkers that occurred between 2015 and 2017.
The descriptions for ‘Bade Babaji’ were also provided by as many as four witnesses in the Lankesh case, according to case documents for the Lankesh murder case.
Based on the descriptions provided by the arrested suspects and witnesses in the Lankesh case, the SIT prepared portraits of the “guest trainers” using the aid of experts.
One of the suspects in the case has stated that he was told that the IED experts were members of the ‘Aseemanand group’ in a possible reference to former RSS worker Naba Kumar Sarkar alias Aseemanand who was arrested in the blast cases of the 2006-2008 period and has been acquitted in the Samjhauta Express, Mecca Masjid and Ajmer blast cases.
The suspects from the Lankesh and other murder cases who attended the IED training camps conducted by the Abhinav Bharat men are Amit Degwekar, Virendra Tawade, Sharad Kalaskar, Shrikant Pangarkar, Vasudev Suryavanshi, Ganesh Miskin, Amit Baddi and Bharat Kurne. The Abhinav Bharat men who have been on the run since 2008 are believed to have been roped in to train Sanatan Sanstha-linked persons to make bombs during the time when ENT doctor and Sanatan Sanstha activist Virendra Tawade was running the covert group between 2011 and 2016.
“Most of the pictures available for the missing suspects from the blast cases that occurred between 2006 and 2008 were very old. Portraits were created in 2018 from description provided by persons arrested in Karnataka and this helped in finding one of the ‘guest trainers’,” sources said.
At some training camps — like one held in Belagavi in Karnataka in December 2014 — the training in making IEDs was provided by Amit Degwekar, a resident of the Sanatan Sanstha ashram in Goa who has been arrested in the Lankesh case for providing logistical and financial support, the Lankesh case documents have indicated.
Incidentally, Degwekar’s room mate at the Sanatan Sanstha ashram Malgonda Patil was killed in a blast in Madgaon in Goa in 2009 while he was allegedly trying to plant a bomb to disrupt a Diwali celebration opposed by the Sanatan Sanstha.
According to documents in the Lankesh case, an effort was also made by members of the Sanatan Sanstha-linked group in Karnataka in 2017 to recruit a bomb expert — released from prison after serving time for making a pipe bomb planted in a court hall in Hubli on May 10, 2008. The former Sri Rama Sena member declined the offer, saying he had already been to prison for making bombs and that he would prefer to stay away from crime, the Lankesh case papers suggest.
The 2008 Hubli court bomb, which resembled IEDs planted at Malegaon, Ajmer and the Mecca Masjid in 2006 and 2007, as revealed by investigations at the time, exploded in an empty court hall, a day before suspects from a SIMI terrorism case were scheduled to be brought to the court.