Ashwini Chauhan, alias Amit, is emerging as the key to cracking the 2007 Samjhauta Express blast that left 68 people dead on the way from Delhi to Attari on the border with Pakistan.
Investigators suspect Chauhan, 30, might have done the recce on the train as he is well-versed in Urdu, official sources said. The National Investigation Agency (NIA) has declared a reward of Rs2 lakh for any information that may lead to his arrest.
The investigators have come to know that while hiding in Jharkhand with Sandeep Dange and Ramji Kalsangra — two others accused in the case for whose arrest the NIA has announced rewards of Rs10 lakh each — Chauhan frequently visited mosques and tried to procure cycle ball-bearings, frequently used in explosive devices as shrapnel. He also read Urdu newspapers every day.
Their stay in Jharkhand was arranged by RSS pracharak Devendra Gupta, a close associate of Sunil Joshi — the murdered Madhya Pradesh RSS pracharak suspected to have been the key organiser of the gang responsible for the Samjhauta Express, Malegaon, Hyderabad-Mecca Masjid and Ajmer Sharif blasts in 2006-07.
Gupta is himself an accused in the Hyderabad and Ajmer blast cases.
The bombs used in the Samjhauta Express were kept in suitcases bought from a shop in Indore's Kothari Market, the probe team has found. The suitcases had cloth covers stitched by a local tailor.
The NIA is now trying to get details of those who bought the suitcases and covers and has been sending teams to various cities in Madhya Pradesh.
According to Swami Aseemanand's statement before a Delhi magistrate, it was a group led by Sunil Joshi that firebombed the Samjhauta train. Aseemanand also said that he and other Hindu activists carried out blasts at Muslim religious places as part of a bomb-for-bomb policy. He was arrested in November in connection with the Mecca Masjid blast case.
On Saturday, a court in Panchkula, Haryana, recorded Aseemanand's statement in the Samjhauta blast case. The statement was recorded under section 164 of the Criminal Procedure Code. Aseemanand's earlier confession was recorded in the Mecca Masjid case, which is being probed by the CBI.
Investigators also plan to question Pragya Singh Thakur in the Samjhauta blast as well as she was very close to Sunil Joshi. Investigators believe she might be able to shed more light on the roles played by Joshi and his group in the Samjhauta Express blast case.