Six persons divided into three groups planted the bombs that rocked Patna on the day of BJP prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi’s rally, the Bihar Police said on Monday.
What’s more, at Gandhi Maidan, the venue of the rally, the suspects mingled with the crowd after 9am on Sunday and went about planting the bombs.
The police shared the information, citing suspect Mohammad Imtiaz Ansari's statements during questioning.
Ansari, a resident of Jharkhand capital Ranchi, was held while trying to flee Patna Junction after the first of the blasts inside a toilet at the railway station at 9.30am.
“Ansari’s statements are being corroborated,” Rajesh Chandra, additional director general of police (special branch), Bihar, said.
Ansari’s claim that the bombs were planted in the hours leading up to the rally gave the police a fresh headache even as a person injured in one of the blasts died, taking the death toll to six.
There were unconfirmed reports that the person who died on Monday was a suspect.
Another controversy brewed after Chandra said there were advance inputs from the Intelligence Bureau and other agencies that terrorist outfit Indian Mujahideen (IM) could target Modi.
The alert, however, was general and not specific.
At a hurriedly convened press conference following the blasts, Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar had said, “Bihar had no input from the state or central intelligence about a possible strike in Bihar at such a target.”
Ansari’s questioning has also thrown up the IM link, through Samastipur (Bihar) resident Tahseen Akhtar , who the police believe is an aide of top leader of the outfit Yasin Bhatkal (who was arrested on August 28).
According to the Jharkhand Police, Akhtar is the suspected mastermind of the conspiracy.
Akhtar is suspected to have met Ansari in Ranchi recently. The Jharkhand Police said the attack could have been worked out at Ansari’s house in Dhurwa locality of Ranchi.
“We have learnt that unknown people had been visiting Ansari over the last couple of months. We suspect the plan could have been launched then,” said SN Pradhan, additional director general of police, Jharkhand.
A hunt is on for Akhtar. The police suspect he is adept at making bombs using locally available chemicals and detonators.
Bihar ADG Chandra said Ainul alias Tariq, who was injured after a bomb accidentally exploded in the toilet at Patna Junction as he tried to attach a battery to an improvised explosive device (IED), and Ansari were given the task of planting bombs at the railway station and other adjoining places.
“Two other groups led by persons identified as Haider and Nadeem alias Nandanali, besides Numan and Tariq, were asked to plant them on two sides of Gandhi Maidan,” he added.
The suspected IM-funded module from Jharkhand had been supported by a team of eight unidentified people to get to Patna and execute their plan, said a police official who did not want to be named.
Experts are scanning a pen drive and CDs recovered from Ansari’s house.
The police are questioning three persons, but have not named them.
Spotlight on Ranchi and Bodh Gaya blast pattern
According to the Bihar Police, the suspects left Ranchi by a bus (Priyanshu) on October 26 night and reached Mithapur bus stand, 300 metres from Patna Junction, around 6am on Sunday.
“From the bus stand, the three teams left for their designated destinations with six bombs, each made of 8-9 inch pipes with explosives inside. The police found analog watches attached to them — similar to the ones found after blasts at Bodh Gaya ,” said Chandra.
The police have so far gathered details of 16 bombs from Ansari, while two are still missing.
While six blasts took place in Gandhi Maidan, four live bombs were recovered from the site. From Patna Junction, two live bombs were recovered.
Ansari has told investigators that four blasts and not one had been triggered inside the Patna Junction toilet.
Political blame game
The attacks also sparked off a political storm in Delhi, with senior Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Arun Jaitley accusing the Nitish Kumar government of being “soft” on terror.
Earlier, the Bihar government had refused to take custody of Bhatkal after his arrest from Pokhra in Nepal.
Meanwhile, the Bihar government has written to home ministry for handing over the case to the National Investigation Agency (NIA). An NIA team is already in Patna.
Shinde responds to BJP barb, may not go to Patna on Tuesday
Responding to the BJP's barbs, home minister Sushilkumar Shinde stressed there were no specific inputs about Modi's rally. The minister said he had been told the blast seemed to have the imprint of the Indian Mujahideen, but quickly added: “Let us wait for the investigation report.”
Shinde, who was planning to visit Patna, may instead send a team led by home secretary Anil Goswami and NIA chief Sharad Kumar.
Sources said the change in plan was being contemplated in view of the Bihar CM’s call to the New Delhi, indicating that he would be in Delhi the day after.
Video: No specific intelligence input Patna blasts, say police