Updated: April 16, 2018 1:38:00 pm
On May 18, 2007, at around 1:15 pm, a pipe bomb exploded at the Mecca Masjid in Hyderabad, killing eight people and injuring 58 others. Five more people were killed in police firing when a rioting mob went berserk at the site. The blast occurred near the wuzukhana (ablution spot) of the 17th-century mosque, which is located in the old city area of Hyderabad close to the Charminar. In the verdict in the case which was delivered on Monday, April 16, 2018, all five accused, who were arrested, including Aseemanand. have been acquited by the NIA court, citing lack of evidence presented by the probe agency.
The first report in the case was registered at the Hussaini Alam Police Station. At least 38 Muslim youths had been detained by the local police on suspicion of being a part of the planning and execution of the blast.
The case was handed over to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) on June 9, 2007, and then the National Investigation Agency (NIA) on April 7, 2011.
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Although local police had initially suspected terror outfits such as Lashkar-e-Tayaba (LeT) or Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami (HuJI), the CBI probe established that members affiliated to a right-wing terror group known as Abhinav Bharat carried out the blast.
In early March 2009, then Union Home Minister P Chidambaram had told media persons that the case had “turned cold” as the two prime accused are believed to have died. In Hyderabad to review the security situation in the state with then Chief Minister Y S Rajasekhara Reddy, state Home Minister K Jana Reddy and other top officials, Chidambaram had said, “The Mecca Masjid case has turned cold. The reason is we think that the two primary suspects in that case are dead,” adding, “Unless we get further clues,it is not possible to take it forward. But the CBI is working on that.”
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The CBI, in early May, 2010, confirmed that the Mecca Masjid blasts and the 2008 Ajmer Dargah blasts were “linked”. “The nature of phone timer devices, kind of explosives and bomb used, common identity proof used to obtain SIM cards and the modus operandi in the two cases have established the link between the Mecca Masjid and Ajmer attacks. We are carrying out further investigations,” then CBI director Ashwani Kumar had told The Indian Express in 2010.
The accused in the 2007 Ajmer Dargah blast had allegedly used similar fake documents to buy SIM cards which were then used to set off the bombs at the two sites. At both places, low-intensity improvised bombs kept in tin boxes with a packing of iron pipes had been used by the bombers. Cylindrical metal pipes had been used to construct both bombs while timers in mobile phones were employed to set of the bombs, an official had told The Indian Express in 2010.
On November 19, 2010, Naba Kumar Sarkar alias Swami Aseemanand, who had been on the run since 2008, was arrested from Haridwar for his alleged role in the Mecca Masjid blast. Assemanand has been embroiled in other blast cases as well. On March 8 last year, he was acquitted in the 2007 Ajmer Dargah bomb blast case.
While the NIA was investigating the case, Aseemanand had given a signed declaration that he, and several members of Abhinav Bharat, had conspired and executed the bomb blast at Mecca Masjid.
Ten members of the Abhinav Bharat, including Nabakumar Sirkar alias Swami Aseemanand, Devender Gupta, Lokesh Sharma alias Ajay Tiwari, Lakshman Das Maharaj, Mohanlal Rateshwar and Rajender Chowdhary, were branded accused. The CBI and NIA filed charge sheets against all ten persons. Two of the accused, Ramchandra Kalsangra and Sandeep Dange, were shown as absconding.
Meanwhile, Lt Col Shrikant Purohit, one of the witnesses in the case, turned hostile February 14, 2018. He told the court that his statement was never recorded by either of the two probe agencies investigating the case.
N Harinath, the Special Public Prosecutor of the NIA, had told The Indian Express that Purohit was listed as witness number 106, to identify Aseemanand, Sunil Joshi, Devendra Gupta and other accused. His statements in the case could have proven that Aseemanand had called him after the murder of Sunil Joshi, an accused in the Ajmer Dargah blast case.
In February this year, Purohit told the NIA court that he knew Aseemanand and other accused persons only as an intelligence officer with the Army collecting information. He refused to acknowledge having met any of the accused, including Aseemanand. He also denied that he had received a call from the latter in December 29, 2007, asking if he knew who had killed Joshi.
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