One of the seven key conspirators in the 2002 Godhra train carnage and the last one still evading arrest could be hiding in Pakistan, investigators probing the massacre said on Saturday.
Salim Panwala, who was a vendor at the Godhra railway station, is accused of hatching the conspiracy to set ablaze a coach of Sabarmati Express and bringing petrol to execute the crime. Fifty-nine Hindu activists returning from Ayodhya were killed when the train was torched near Godhra station on February 27, 2002, triggering one of the worst communal violence in the country killing around 2,000 people.
The Gujarat Anti-Terrorist Squad (ATS) this week made a major breakthrough with the arrest of absconder Farooq Bhana, a Godhra resident hiding in the slums of Mumbai. He had also visited Pakistan for a brief period.
With Bhana’s arrest, six of the total seven prime accused – Haji Bilal, Abdul Razak, Salim Zarda, Mehboob Chanda and Jabir Behrani, besides Bhana and Panwala – have been nabbed.
Global policing authority Interpol earlier issued a red corner notice – an international arrest warrant – against Panwala.
While Bhana’s trial will begin now, the five others have already been convicted and awarded capital punishment by Godhra session court in 2011.
“With the arrest of Bhana, now only one of the total six key conspirators is at large. A red corner notice was issued against Panwala based on information that he might have moved to Pakistan,” said ATS DIG JK Bhatt, adding that in 2015.
Sources in the ATS said six other accused are also absconding.