Three members of a Maoist-trained "militia" group, two of them Christians, were arrested on Monday in connection with the killing of VHP leader Swami Laxmananda Saraswati in Orissa's riot-torn Kandhamal district.
This was the first arrest in connection with the killing which took place 42 days ago, sparking an orgy of communal violence in the district.
The Crime Branch of Orissa police seized two guns from the trio, police said.
"The three persons were arrested by the special investigating team (SIT) formed to nab the culprits", Orissa's Director General of Police Manmohan Praharaj told PTI adding the arrested were taken to the police custody.
"All the three persons arrested have confessed to the crime", said crime branch inspector P K Patnaik who was instrumental in the arrest of the three youths in the age group of 30 to 32 years.
The trio, identified as Duryodhan Sunamajhi, Mundabeda Majhi and Sanatan Majhi of Kotgarh area, were produced before the sub-divisional judicial magistrate's (SDJM) court at Baliguda in Kandhamal district and remanded to police custody for seven days.
Besides two SVML guns, the police have seized two black masks and four black shirts used during the crime, the official said adding the police possessed evidences to prove the charges.
They were picked up from Baliguda police station area on the basis of specific intelligence inputs, said a member of the SIT adding that more persons were likely to be booked soon.
According to the Inspector General (IG) of Police, Crime Branch, Arun Ray, the trio belonged to the 150-strong militia group formed by Maoists to execute the killing.
"Though they were not part of the Maoist cadre, the milita group including the three, were imparted training in fire arms and execute the crime," Ray told PTI while declining to specify religion of the trio.
However, sources in the crime branch claimed two of the three persons arrested today were Christians.
Giving details of execution of the killing, Ray said the Maoists had formed a 150-member group comprising local tribals and Dalits to eliminate the VHP leader who was opposed to conversion and cow slaughter in particular.
While police was probing the Christian angle into the murder, Ray said they could come to a conclusion on the matter only after collecting evidences based on the information provided by the three arrested youths.
Besides Laxamananda, the killers had on August 23 evening gunned down sanyasini Mata Bhaktimayee, Baba Amritananda, Kishore Baba and Puranjan Ganthi, a guardian of an inmate of the Kanyashram at Jalespeta in kandhamal district.
The communal and ethnic violence in Kandhamal has so far claimed 35 lives and several houses, churches and places of worship were vandalized.