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Mapping a terror plot

delhi Updated: Jan 11, 2011 00:43 IST
Rajesh Ahuja

At about 9.35 pm on September 29, 2008, a bomb exploded opposite Shakeel Goods Company in Malegaon, Maharashtra, claiming six lives. The improvised explosive device was fitted on a motorcycle bearing the number MH-15 P-4572. The first lead came through retrieving some digits of the erased engine number of the bike. It was found that the bike was registered in the name of Pragya Singh Thakur of Surat. Investigators say she was in Jabalpur then. However, when she was called to Surat, she went to Ujjain instead and met Ramji Kalsangra. The Maharashtra anti-terrorism squad (ATS) was keeping track of her movements. She was arrested.

But the ATS couldn’t apprehend Kalsangra and his partner Sandeep Dange, who had allegedly planted the bomb on the motorcycle. Pragya Thakur, Kalsangra and Dange were members of Jai Vande Matram, an outfit floated by RSS activist Sunil Joshi, murdered in mysterious circumstances in Dewas on December 29, 2007. Investigators also got leads about Aseemanand, an activist of Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram in Dangs district of Gujarat. But he was missing then, as were Dange and Kalsangra.

The ATS got leads about another outfit called Abhinav Bharat, floated by a serving lieutenant colonel called Shrikant Purohit. By pursuing this lead the ATS was able to join the dots between the bomb blasts in Parbhani (2003), Jalna and Purna (2004), and Nanded (2006), which were the handiwork of Hindu extremists active in Maharashtra. But before the final picture emerged, the investigation received a setback with the death of ATS head Hemant Karkare in the 26/11 attacks on Mumbai.

The responsibility then fell on the Rajasthan ATS, probing the Ajmer blast case, and the CBI, which was handling the Mecca Masjid probe. For the Ajmer blast, the first clue came from the screen saver of the mobile phone, fitted as a timer device in the unexploded bomb recovered from the Dargah Ajmer Sharif. The screen saver had Jai Vande Matram written over it. Then the bomb was very similar in nature to the one recovered unexploded from the Mecca Masjid in Hyderabad almost six months earlier in May 2007.

Joshi’s diary provided more clues with names such as Indresh Kumar and Devendra Gupta emerging. Bharat Bhai Rateshwar, a key witness in the Ajmer blast case, gave investigators an insight into the alleged working relationship between Aseemanand, Joshi and Indresh Kumar, on the one hand, and Aseemanand’s ties with Lt. Colonel Purohit, on the other. Bharat Bhai also told investigators that Aseemanand had suspected the role of Indresh Kumar in Joshi’s murder.

Aseemanand’s arrest in November last year gave the real impetus to the investigation and his interrogation is proving conclusive to solve the mystery behind the terror strikes on the Samjhauta Express, the Mecca Masjid and the Dargah Ajmer Sharif. Aseemanand has also spoken about the involvement of Sunil Joshi in Malegaon blasts of September 2006.

But the work of investigators is not over as there are some questions to be answered: Who planted bombs on the Samjhauta Express? Who murdered Sunil Joshi? What was the role of Gujarat rioters in Joshi’s murder?

Only then will things fall into place.