Terror attacks

Mecca Masjid acquittals: Status report on four blasts in which Hindutva supporters have been accused

The BJP on Monday declared that Monday’s verdict exposed the ‘appeasement politics’ of the Congress.

On Monday, a special court of the National Investigation Agency acquitted all the suspects in the Mecca Masjid blast case. In May 18, 2007, an explosive device killed nine people and injured 58 in Hyderabad’s Mecca Masjid while Friday prayers were underway. Though the chargesheet filed by the Central Bureau of Invesitgation listed 10 suspects, all of them members of Hindtuva organisations, only five of them had been arrested and faced trial.

The trial was shadowed by controversy. Aseemanand, a Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh activist, had confessed to the crime and, in a media interview, accused the Sangh of playing a role. Another accused in the case, also an RSS leader, Sunil Joshi was murdered while the trial was proceeding.

After the verdict, Aseemanand’s lawyer, JP Sharma, claimed that the former Congress-led Central government had fabricated the charge of Hindutva terror. The Bharatiya Janata Party declared that the acquittal exposed the “appeasement politics” of the Congress.

This is not the only case in which cases of terror that have seen Hindutva supporters being accused. Four cases of alleged “Hindutva terror” occurred in 2007 and 2008 with the investigative authorities at the time claiming that all the cases were linked.

2007 Samjhauta Express bombings

On the night of February 18, 2007, a bomb killed 68 people, mostly Pakistanis on the Samjhauta Express, a train that ran between Delhi in India and Lahore, Pakistan. The National Investigative Agency filed a charge sheet against eight people including Aseemanand, who was also an accused in the Mecca Masjid blast case. According to the National Investigative Agency chargesheet, Aseemanand and his co-conspirators had planned the Samjhauta bombings along with attacks on Malegaon, Ajmer and Hyderabad.

In August, 2014, however, the Punjab and Haryana High court granted bail to Aseemanand. This was not opposed by the National Investigative Agency. By that time, the BJP had been voted into power. Moreover, 10 witnesses in the case have turned hostile. One hostile witness accused the National Investigative Agency – during the regime of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance – of coercing him to frame Aseemanand.

Initially, Maharashtra Police’s Anti-Terror Squad linked army officer PS Purohit to the Samjhauta blasts. But in 2016, the National Investigative Agency claimed that there was no proof against Purohit. Purohit had served in Jammu and Kashmir from 2002-2005 before being moved to Military Intelligence. This is not the only instance of terror with which Purohit has been linked.

2007 Ajmer Dargah attack

On October 11, 2007, a small bomb exploded in Ajmer’s well-known Sufi shrine killing two people. The explosion occurred during the Ramzan as pilgrims gathered to break their fast at the end of the day.

Aseemanand was an accused here too, however, he was acquited by a local court. Three Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh workers were held guilty – one of whom, Sunil Joshi, also an accused in the Mecca Masjid blast, had been shot dead earlier. In 2017, the other two were sentenced to life imprisonment.

2008 Malegaon blasts

On September 29, 2008, simultaneous blasts took place in Malegaon in Maharashtra and Modasa in Gujarat. Seven people were killed in Malegaon and one in Modasa. Inititally, the investigative agencies suspected the hand of Muslim extremists groups but later inquiries pointed to the role of Hindu extremists. Twelve people were arrested, including Pragya Singh Thakur, a Hindu nun and a former national executive member of of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, the student wing of the BJP. Also detained was PS Purohit, the armyman earlier connected to Samjhauta Express Bombing.

Thakur accused the Mumbai Anti-Terrorism Squad of torturing her. In 2015, Rohini Salian, Special Public Prosecutor in the case, accused the National Investigation Agency of asking her to go “soft” in the case after the Modi government took office.

In 2017, Purohit got bail from the Supreme Court and rejoined the army. Throughout his trial, Purohit had claimed that he had attended meetings of extremist Hindutva groups in order to gather intelligence for the army. A year earlier, the National Investigation Agency has dropped Thakur’s name from its chargesheet, giving her a clean chit. In 2017, the Bombay High Court granted her bail.

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