The first signs of a budding terrorist outfit that grew out of Swami Aseemanand’s group of confidants can be traced as far back as 1999, almost eight years before they triggered the first explosion in 2007.
The team that had been preparing with deadly devices to strike the Samjhauta Express, the Mecca Masjid and Ajmer Sharif bonded so well that even when on the run, they provided shelter and protection to one another.
An Ajmer blast case witness told investigators that he had seen three key members of the group experimenting with detonators at a Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) office in Dungergaon in Madhya Pradesh in 1999.
All three — Sunil Joshi, an RSS Pracharak of Mahu district in Madhya Pradesh, Sandeep Dange, a Pracharak from Indore, and Devendra Gupta, another Pracharak from Jharkhand's Jamtada — were later accused in the Ajmer blast case.
The witness (name withheld), who joined the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) in 1998-99, said he started visiting the RSS office regularly in Dungergaon.
One day, he said, he heard the sound of a cracker burst and immediately went up to the roof and saw Joshi, Gupta and Dange in a huddle. Joshi said they were checking a detonator.
Again in 2000, the same witness saw Joshi and Dange experimenting with pipes and electrical equipment in a field.
Investigators say Dange and another Ajmer case accused, Pracharak Ramji Kalsangra, finally made the bombs used in the blasts. As Joshi was murdered in 2007, his name was not sent up for trial, while Dange and Kalsangre are still at large.
According to sources in the investigating agencies, Gupta arranged for a shelter for Dange and Kalsangra in Jharkhand through an associate when security agencies were hot on their trails after the Malegaon blast in September 2008.
Gupta's man, who later turned a witness, said after reading about the Malegaon blast in a newspaper, Kalsangra said,
"Only five-six persons have died in Malegaon. At least four-five thousand should have been killed."
He heard Kalsangra even saying that he would shoot himself before allowing the police to catch him alive.