Toral Varia in Mumbai
Union Home Minister P Chidambaram recently declared that the National Investigation Agency will not oppose the bail pleas of the nine muslim youths arrested in connection with the 2006 Malegaon blasts. Toral Varia analyses the reasons behind this decision and what are the new leads being explored by the NIA.
Latest investigations into the Malegaon 2006 blasts point to certain leads which suggest that while the blasts may have been the brainchild of a group of right-wing Hindu extremists, its execution was done by hired Muslim boys who apparently did it for the money.
The controversial investigation into the Malegaon 2006 blasts is currently in its fourth round, having passed on from the Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad to two different teams of the Central Bureau of Investigation, before finally being handed over to the NIA.
The last two stages of the investigation have been largely based on the primary leads that have emerged out of Naba Kumar Sarkar, aka Swami Aseemanand's confession.
Over the past few months, both the CBI, prior to handing over the investigations to NIA, and the latter have meticulously gone about recording statements of the accused and witnesses connected with the Sunil Joshi murder case in Indore, and the Nanded, Parbhani and Jalna blasts in Maharashtra.
Aseemanand had mentioned the involvement of Muslim youths
Investigator say that while not all the nine youth could be involved in the 2006 blasts, there is a strong possibility that one of them may have played a crucial role in the execution, while the other one is still absconding.
This is something that Aseemanand had also mentioned in his confession. According to him, the Malegaon blasts were executed by Muslim youths provided by Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangha leader Indresh Kumar.
Rediff.com has learnt that prior to handing over the case to the NIA in May this year, the CBI team held a two-hour long briefing for the NIA officials outlining the findings of their over two months of on-ground investigations inside Malegaon.
Taking a cue from Aseemanand's confession, the CBI secured its first breakthrough by interrogating a former RSS pracharak, Shivam Dhakad, and Mahesh Dhakad (both close associates of Sunil Joshi, allegedly a key conspirator in the Malegaon 2008 blast who was murdered).
Shivam Dhakad is a former RSS vistarak. He was arrested by the Ujjain police in 2010.
'Dhakad was working on impersonating a Muslim'
According to the source, it was through the Dakads' interrogation that the CBI could map out an accused Abrar Ahmed Gul Ahmed's travels to various dharamshalas in Indore, Shabri Dham Ashram in Gujarat's Dangs District, and a couple of safe houses in Mumbai. Ahmed is an approver in the 2006 Malegaon case.
"We could establish through witnesses that Abrar had travelled to and stayed in Indore for over a month, but the managements of dharamshalas haven't co-operated much with us," says a CBI officer who was involved with the investigations before it was handed over to the NIA.
During the course of its investigations, the CBI also learnt that Mahesh had procured a library card from an acquaintance in Kolkata. A close scrutiny of the library records revealed that Mahesh Dhakad was undergoing training to impersonate a Muslim.
"We suspect that this was a part of the process to ensure the smooth induction of Muslim youths in their plans."
According to Aseemanand, the real mastermind was Joshi and it was in fact Aseemanand himself who was instrumental in selecting Malegaon as a prime target, as it has sizeable Muslim population.
The execution was similar to Nanded, Parbhani and Jalna blasts
This is what Aseemanand told the magistrate, "Joshi came to see me at Shabri Dham on Diwali in 2006. The Malegaon blasts had already happened. Sunil (joshi) told me the blasts were carried out by our men. I said the newspaper reports had mentioned that Muslims were behind the blasts and a few Muslims had also been arrested. Sunil (joshi) assured me that the blasts were carried out by him but he refused to reveal the identity of our men who had executed the blasts."
Investigators believe that at least one of Joshi's 'boys' was Abrar Ahmed Gul Ahmed. This belief gained strength after the investigators went about recording Abrar's wife's statement.
According to the investigating officer, "She knew what he was doing, and believed he was doing the right thing."
Going into the modus operandi of the blasts, investigators have gone about corroborating that it was exactly similar to that of Nanded, Parbhani and Jalna blasts.
The CBI found that the similarity was restricted not just to the make of bombs, but extended to the targets of choice and manner in which it was executed.
"If you look closely then you will see that the blasts at Parbhani, Jalna and Malegaon took place on a Friday between 1.45 pm and 2 pm outside mosques. Bicycles were used in all blasts. Geographically, these are districts in the Marathawada belt," observed a senior officer from the CBI.
Was the ATS hasty in the initial investigations?
Photographs: Punit Paranjpe/Reuters
After working on the case for several months now, the investigators have also been able to establish that some of the witnesses and accused in the Joshi murder case, and Jalna and Parbhani blasts had visited Malegaon for reconnaissance.
With fresh leads panning out to several parts of the country, the investigators are clear that perhaps the Maharashtra ATS had shown haste in the initial investigation.
However, while the NIA has enough reasons to not oppose the bail application of the nine arrested men in the Malegaon blast 2006 case, there is still some evidence which is holding back the agency from giving them a clean chit.
Evidence such as a brief telephonic conversation where one of the accused is heard saying "kaam ho jayega..." and the confession statements of the accused themselves have kept the investigators wondering about the exact role of the arrested accused in the 2006 blast.