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Malegaon,Ajmer,Hyderabad blasts… Joining the dots

Maharashtra ATS has always maintained that while the conspirators come from diverse backgrounds,the foot-soldiers were essentially from two base camps.

During the initial days of the probe into the 2008 Malegaon bomb blast,investigators had found that while the perpetrators had used a stolen numberplate on the motorcycle on which the bomb was planted,they had also used a ‘hand grinder’ to try and erase its alphanumeric chassis number. Long hours and days were spent combing through the layers of the metal body to finally figure out the actual number.

When the Maharashtra Anti Terrorism Squad (ATS) team reached the office of LML,which had manufactured the two-wheeler,they were told that the company had stopped manufacturing the model in 2006 and that there were about 3.5 lakh units at the time across the country. The search for the owner of the bike eventually took them to Surat,to the house of Chandrapal Singh Thakur.

Thakur said that the motorcycle actually belonged to his daughter. Even as they sat in his house,they were curious about the identity of the woman. As the team struggled with the idea that they might be on the verge of discovering a rare woman terror conspirator,they found that this woman was also a Sadhvi,something the team found a “little too much to handle”.

Phone calls were made — the officers to their seniors and Thakur to his daughter who was told to reach home immediately. But Sadhvi Pragya Thakur,now one of the main conspirators of the 2008 Malegaon blast,went straight to Indore,Madhya Pradesh — the same city where all the new investigation trails are now leading in connection with the 2007 Ajmer dargah blast.

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This April,when the Rajasthan ATS made its first arrests in the Ajmer blast case — a similar nexus emerged. Another investigation down south in Hyderabad,in the May 2007 Mecca Masjid blast case,is also indicating links to Indore and the Hindu extremists it seems to have spawned.

For one,at least two accused in the newly emerging network behind the two 2007 blasts,Devendra Gupta and Chandrashekar,have affiliations with Abhinav Bharat,which was founded in 2006 by Lt Col Prasad Purohit — another accused in the Malegaon blast — as an educational trust but was in reality a step to “set up a parallel Hindu state and an armed government”.

Investigators said the three cases also seem to have other technical links,such as the common identity proof used to obtain SIM cards for the two 2007 blasts by Indore-based Jharkhand native Gupta. In the Malegaon blast too,the SIM card operations were allegedly taken care of by Indore-based Ramnarayan Kalsangra alias Ramji,who is also accused of having made the bomb in Nashik.

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The Maharashtra ATS has always maintained that while the conspirators come from diverse backgrounds,the foot-soldiers were essentially from two base camps,operating under Hindutva-preaching NGOs based out of Pune and Indore. While the connections between the Mecca Masjid blast and the Ajmer blast still remains to be completely established,investigators say that a further possible link with Malegaon needs more work and corroboration.

In the Malegaon probe,it did not go unnoticed that every time a suspect’s name emerged,the suspect would flee to the safety of the Dangs,Gujarat’s tribal region,where the Maharashtra ATS had camped to track another suspect,Swami Asimanand in October 2008. Last week,the teams probing the Ajmer blast landed in the Dangs. And Asimanand is once again believed to have given them the slip.

When the CBI team investigating the Mecca Masjid blast visited Nashik jail to question Purohit and Pragya last week,it was not the first time that an agency investigating another blast in the country had come to talk to them. A Rajasthan Police team had come to question them much earlier,in 2009,to find out if the Ajmer blast,the Mecca Masjid blast and even possibly the Samjhauta Express blast had anything in common.

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While the motive for the radical Hindus to allegedly launch attacks is suspected to involve the country’s communal history,the targets in all three cases were Muslim places of worship or an Islamic religious event such as the fasting month of Ramadan when Malegaon was targeted.

Seeking their custody,investigating agencies had informed the Nashik Chief Judicial Magistrate court that “a series of meetings” had taken place between Sadhvi Pragya Thakur and retired Major Ramesh Upadhyay,also an accused in the Malegaon blast,which needs to be further probed. The remand also speaks of meetings between the Sadhvi,Sameer Kulkarni and Upadhyay,in Indore,along with an important meeting that took place on April 16,2008,at Bhonsale Military School in Nashik. The Maharashtra Police are now hopeful that a lot of “blanks’ will be filled — the key question of “who let the RDX out” to the whereabouts of Ramji,and the suspected conspiracy network of the blasts in 2007 and 2008.


The Ajmer Dargah Blast

On October 11,2007,a blast in the Ajmer Dargah killed three persons and and injured several others. The low-intensity blast was reported to have been triggered by a cellphone.

After no real breakthrough for more than two years,the Rajasthan ATS arrested Devendra Gupta from Bihariganj in Ajmer on April 30 this year. Gupta,who is suspected to have links with right wing Hindu extremist groups,is reported to have procured the SIM cards used in the Ajmer attack. The SIM cards were procured from Jharkhand,where Gupta has been based since 2006.

A day later,Rajasthan ATS arrested another person,Chandrashekhar,and detained Vishnu Patidar — both from Madhya Pradesh. Patidar was let off after verification. ATS sources said he may turn witness for the prosecution.

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Police sources said Gupta and Chandrashekhar are suspected to be linked to the Malegaon and Mecca Masjid blasts. Gupta was also reportedly in touch with deceased RSS leader Sunil Joshi in Jharkhand.

Rajasthan Home Minister Shanti Dhariwal said police were on the lookout for Swami Asminanand of the Dangs,suspected to have masterminded the Ajmer blast.

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Police suspect Ramji Kalsangra,wanted in the Malegaon blast,was responsible for making the bomb used in the Ajmer attack.

— Apurva


Mecca Masjid Blast

On May 18,2007,an explosion rocked the historic Mecca Masjid. Nine persons were killed and 58 injured. Another five persons died in police firing on a protesting mob that had gathered at the site following the blast.

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Initially,a special investigation team of Hyderabad Police investigated the blast as well as the police firing incident. Both cases were transferred to the CBI on June 9,2007.

Suspecting that Islamic terrorist groups were behind the blast,fingers were pointed at HuJI and SIMI. The Hyderabad Police detained several Muslim youths.

After the CBI took over the investigation,it examined the detained youths and asked police to release all of them as there was no evidence of their involvement.

The CBI followed several leads based on one live bomb that was found in the mosque premises. After working on the case for 20 months,the CBI said the trail had gone cold.

Following the arrest of members of Abhinav Bharat after the Malegaon blast,the CBI investigated the involvement of the group in the Mecca Masjid case,but without much success.

A SIM card found at the site of the Ajmer blast was found to be from the same series that was used in the mobile phone to trigger the Mecca Masjid blast. The CBI released a sketch of the man who allegedly purchased those SIM cards but it turned out to be a case of mistaken identity as the sketch was that of a yoga teacher from Noida. The CBI withdrew the sketch.

-Sreenivas Janyala

First published on: 10-05-2010 at 12:45:25 am
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