As the Centre rushed a team of the National Investigation Agency (NIA) and forensic experts from the CBI to investigate the Pune blast, the probe is being guided by two facts: one,the very neighbourhood in which German Bakery is,was on the surveillance list of Lashkar suspect David Coleman Headley and,two,the Indian Mujahideen has a strong base in the city.
Headley first visited the Osho Ashram in Pune on July 24,2008. Union Home Secretary G K Pillai,in fact,today referred to that saying that the Osho Ashram just yards away from the blast site was surveyed by Headley and that the Maharashtra Police had been alerted by the Multi Agency Centre (MAC) about this on October 12,2009.
Coming 11 days before India and Pakistan engage in Foreign Secretary-level talks,the re-emergence of the Headley connection to todays blast has complicated the environment before the talks. While the Congress chose a guarded response in saying that continuance of talks was for the government to decide upon,the Opposition BJP made it clear that terror and talks could not go hand in hand.
I am deeply distressed, said Union Home Minister P Chidambaram,who was visiting his constituency in Tamil Nadu and is likely to take the flight to Pune on Sunday.
Indian investigators have established:
* During his visit to the Osho Ashram,Headley took a pass to attend a meditation session on July 25,2008,but eventually did not use the pass. The Chabad House (a Jewish Community Centre) located near the bakery is on the list of Lashkar targets provided to Indian security agencies in October 2009 by international agencies.
* Headley again visited Osho Ashram on March 16,2009 and entered the premises with a one-day entry pass. During this visit,he stayed in Room No 202 of Hotel Surya Villa in Koregaon Park from 6.50 pm on March 16 to 8 am on March 17,2009.
* While checking out,he cleared Rs 1,248 as his hotel bill in cash and made no phone calls from the hotel. Hotel Surya Villa,too,is located close to the scene of todays blast.
* One of the items recovered from the suitcase,which Headley left behind at the residence of one Bashir Sheikh in Mumbai,was the registration paper of the Osho commune.
Todays blast comes days after suspected Indian Mujahideen (IM) operative Shahzad Ahmed was arrested from Azamgarh in Uttar Pradesh. During his interrogation,Shahzad is learnt to have said that IMs mission was to target areas frequented by foreigners. He is also said to have told his interrogators that Commonwealth Games venues were high on IMs hitlist.
Reacting to todays incident,Congress spokesperson Abhishek Manu Singhvi said,According to India,terror issues were always the prime focus of the talks,even before the blast. While it is for the government to take a final decision (on the talks scheduled for February 25),that focus is certainly sharpened by this incident. Continuance of talks or otherwise is ultimately for the government to decide. But certainly,the shadow is dark and long.
The BJP,on the other hand,said that (Pakistan-sponsored) terror and talks (with Pakistan) cannot go hand in hand. Said BJP spokesperson Prakash Javadekar: This only shows our (lack of) preparedness to tackle threats posed by terror outfits. A large number of policemen,incidentally,were today employed to give protection to theatres running a particular film in Pune. Said BJPs Ravi Shankar Prasad:
The propensity of some Congress leaders to visit villages of terrorists would only encourage terrorists and their patrons. We demand that terror be handled firmly.
(with Neeraj Chauhan)