Four persons, including a leader of Hindutva group Bajrang Dal, have been arrested in Karnataka’s Gadag district in connection with the killing of a 19-year-old Muslim man, the police said on Wednesday, according to The News Minute.

Those arrested have been identified as Bajrang Dal leader Sanju Nalvade, Mallikarjun alias Gundya Muttappa Hiremath, Channabasappa alias Channu Chandrashekar Akki, and Sakrappa Hanumanthappa Kakanur.

The 19-year-old youth, Sameer Shahapur, who worked at a roadside eatery, and his friend Shamsher Khan Pathan, employee at a photo studio, were allegedly attacked by 15 men carrying weapons on January 16.

“Sameer closed the hotel and went to the barber shop that night,” Sahil, a relative of the deceased, told The News Minute. “He then picked up Shamsher from the studio and was returning home. I realised something was wrong when he didn’t return home till late.”

Sahil later found Shahapur and Pathan lying on a road in Nargund town of Gadag district.

“They were assaulted by people carrying weapons near the [local] State Bank,” he said. “We immediately took Sameer to Karnataka Institute of Medical Sciences [in] Hubballi, but he died due to his injuries on Tuesday morning.”

Pathan had sustained injuries on his back, reported The Hindu.

Mohammed Zubair, the brother of the deceased, said that Sameer Shahapur did not even know the assailants, reported The Print.

“Two months ago there was a tiff between a Muslim man and a Hindu man over a girl,” he told The Print. “Since that incident, RSS [Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh] and Bajrang Dal members have been attacking Muslim youths whenever they can. My brother had nothing to do with that incident or the people who killed him.”

Gadag Superintendent of Police Shiv Prakash Devaraju also said that they found no connection between the victims and the accused persons. In a statement the police said they were suspecting that the accused persons had targeted the victims out of anger on communal incidents that took place in the town since November.

Devaraju also confirmed that conflicts have been occurring between members of the two communities in the town since November.

“This is the third altercation since November,” he said. “We made arrests in the first case and booked the men under section 307 [attempt to murder] of the IPC [Indian Penal Code]. Though Sameer and Shamsher were present in this altercation, they were not directly involved.”

The police officer added: “On January 14, there was a protest by Bajrang Dal members in front of the police station demanding that more Muslim men be booked. These members [of Bajrang Dal] also went to a Muslim locality and started an argument.”

The protest was led by Nalvade, the Bajrang Dal leader who has been arrested for the killing. In videos of the protest, Nalvade can be heard criticising the police for not taking up cases against Muslim men.

Devaraju told reporters that a first information report has been registered for hate speech as well.

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