A special court on Monday discharged nine Muslim men accused of triggering the 2006 Malegaon blasts that killed 37 people, saying there was no evidence to prove their guilt and they were used as “scapegoats”.
One of the suspects, Shabbir Masiullah, was killed in an accident in 2015.
The accused, including two doctors, spent five years in jail after the Maharashtra anti-terrorist squad (ATS) arrested and pressed charges against them under the stringent Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act (MCOCA). The CBI too toed the same line.
They were granted bail by a trial court in November 2011 after the National Investigation Agency (NIA), which took over the case, didn’t object to their plea.
Bombs planted on bicycles parked near a mosque went off around 1pm on September 8, 2006, after Friday prayers on the occasion of Shab-e-Baraat. Mostly Muslim devotees were killed in the explosions, which wounded more than 300 people.
The ATS had contended that the accused, having links with the banned Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI), triggered the blasts to provoke Muslims in the sensitive town to riot against Hindus.
Judge VV Patil of the special court in Mumbai refused to believe the ATS line. “It seems to me highly impossible that the accused who are Muslim would have decided to kill their own people to create disharmony in two communities that, too, on a day that is Shab-e-Baraat,” he said.
He let off the suspects, saying the ATS arrested these men merely on suspicion. “They became scapegoats at the hands of the ATS.”
Judge Patil didn’t fault the ATS officers who conducted the investigation. “In my view, they discharged their public duty in a wrong way, so they may not be blamed for it.”
Of the nine accused, Asif Khan and Shaikh Mohammad Ali were convicted in the Mumbai 7/11 serial train blasts of 2006.
Accused doctor Farogh Magdumi hailed the verdict. “I was never scared of conviction because I am innocent. There was lot of evidence to prove that I was not involved in the case.”
The others discharged on Monday are Noorul Huda Samsodhoha, Raees Ahmad Mansuri, Mohd Zahid Abdul Majid, Abrar Ahmad, and Salman Aimi, the other doctor.
The case turned on its head after former RSS activist Swami Aseemanand, an accused in the 2007 Mecca Masjid bombing, told a court that the blasts were carried out by a Hindu group.
His confession prompted the UPA government of the time to transfer the investigation to the NIA on April 6, 2011. The agency subsequently arrested four people linked to a Hindu extremist outfit. Thereafter, the NIA told the court that it had no evidence against the nine accused.
NIA chief Sharad Kumar said the court’s order on Monday vindicated the anti-terror agency’s probe.
“It was up to the court to take a call which of the three probes, conducted by the ATS, CBI and NIA, prima facie makes a case for the trial of the accused. This is the correct legal position. The court found some merit in the NIA probe and discharged the earlier accused,” he said.
The agency has been accused of going slow on cases involving Hindu outfits since the BJP-led NDA government came to power in 2014. “No one in the NDA government at any level has ever spoken to me or my officials,” Kumar said.
Malegaon, a Muslim-dominated powerloom town around 300 km northeast of Mumbai, was rocked by serial blasts again on September 29, 2008, allegedly masterminded by a Hindu group.
(With inputs from HTC New Delhi and agencies)