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From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 8, Issue 3, Dated January 22, 2011
CURRENT AFFAIRS  
HINDUTVA TERROR

Not just a confession. Forensic evidence piles up against Hindutva terror

BY ASHISH KHETAN

THE CONFESSION of Swami Asimananda has drawn sharp and diverse reactions from different quarters. The families of the nine Malegaon Muslims implicated in the 2006 Malegaon blasts, which claimed 31 innocent lives, have termed it the clinching proof of their innocence. Not unexpectedly, the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh have alleged that Asimananda’s confession was made under coercion and thus rubbished the ongoing probe into Hindutva terror.

But the fact remains that Asimananda had made the confession in the closed chamber of a Delhi Metropolitan Magistrate with no one else being around and after spending two days in judicial custody contemplating possible repercussions. Again, what is being completely overlooked in this politically charged debate is a whole body of evidence — both material and circumstantial — which has been pieced together by different agencies over the past four years. Asimananda’s confession only confirms and adds to the existing pool of evidence.

Over the past three years the evidence gathered by the agencies against a team of RSS pracharaks and lunatic Hindutva groups like Abhinav Bharat and Jai Vande Matram is compelling.

BEENA SARWAR 
Editor, Special Projects, Jang Group, Pakistan

POWER CIRCUIT

A 6.53 volt battery was part of the power circuits used in the Mecca Masjid blast

CONTAINERS

One of the two iron boxes that contained the Mecca Masjid bombs

BRIEFCASE BOMB

One of the three IEDs that failed to go off in the Samjhauta Express

Since the arrests of a motley group of Hindu radicals — Sadhvi Pragya Singh, Lt Col Shrikant Purohit, Dayanand Pandey and eight other residents of Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh in 2008 — every new arrest, a witness testimony and recovery of new material has further corroborated and augmented the existing case against Hindu extremists.

As the missing pieces of the Hindutava terror puzzle are falling into place, new faces at the heart of the terror conspiracy like RSS central committee member Indresh Kumar have also been exposed.

The protracted investigation, which is now in its fourth year, began on 9 June 2007 with the CBI taking over the Mecca Masjid blast probe from the Hyderabad Police.

COMMON MODUS OPERANDI

The motorcycle used to conceal the bomb in Malegaon in 2008

In Modasa too the bomb was planted on a motorcycle

The 17 May 2007 Mecca Masjid terror strike, which killed nine Muslims and injured over 50 others, also left behind a small but crucial scientific clue — a Nokia cell phone and inside the phone a Vodafone SIM card.

The cell phone was part of an improvised explosive device (IED) that had failed to go off and thus comprised the only clue and in many ways the starting point for the investigation.

As the CBI sleuths took over the Mecca Masjid blast probe they discovered that there were a couple of striking similarities in the Mecca Masjid blast and the Samjhauta Express terror attack.

Sixty-eight people were killed when three successive powerful explosions turned two compartments of the Samjhauta Express into an inferno on 19 February 2007. The explosions had occurred at around midnight as the bi-weekly train on its way to Atari was crossing the Diwana railway station, 80 km from New Delhi.

While at Mecca Masjid in Hyderabad one bomb had malfunctioned and thus failed to explode, three unexploded IEDs were found on the Samjhauta Express.

Curiously, the 6.53 volt battery found in the unexploded IED at Mecca Masjid was exactly the same as the batteries used to power the IEDs planted on the Samjhauta Express. Besides, the metallic shells used to stuff explosives in the Mecca Masjid bombs were similar to the iron shells which were part of the IEDs planted on the Samjhauta Express.

Similar shells were recovered from the house of a Hindu radical in Nanded, Maharashtra, in April 2006 when an RSS member and a Bajrang Dal activist had died while assembling a bomb. During the investigation it had emerged that the Hindu extremists had exploded similar shell bombs outside a few mosques in Jalna and Parbhani in 2003 and 2004.

Also in December 2002, more than half-a-dozen live pipe or shell bombs were recovered from an ijtema, a large religious gathering of Muslims, held near the Bhopal railway station.

The design of the shells used in bombs in Nanded, Jalna, Parbhani, Bhopal, Samjhauta and Mecca Masjid was similar and thus hinted towards the involvement of one terror group behind all these cases.

An unexploded IED found at the Mecca Masjid blast site was the starting point for the investigation

Interestingly, between 2005 and 2008, in the terror strikes targeted at Hindu neighbourhoods and temples — like the 2005 Delhi Diwali blasts, 2006 Sankatmochan Mandir blasts and 2007 Hyderabad twin blasts — the design of bombs was strikingly different from these bombs which were aimed at Muslims.

However, the counter-terrorism agencies in India remained divided over the inpossibility of Hindu radicals being involved in these Muslim targeted terror strikes — the 2006 Malegaon serial blasts, the Samjhauta Express blasts and the Mecca Masjid attack.

As opaque and extrapolated intelligence inputs — Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) being behind the Samjhauta blasts and the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami (HUJI) behind the Mecca Masjid attack — continued to pour in, the CBI investigation pursued the forensic trail.

THE MECCA Masjid IED consisted of two pairs of metallic shells with their ends sealed, save for a small hole at one end to stuff the explosives. In the case of Mecca Masjid the explosive used was a lethal mix of high-intensity RDX and Trinitrotoluene (TNT) — both these explosives are only available with the army and paramilitary forces. Electrical detonators connected a 6.53 volt battery to the explosives through the hole at an end of each pair of the cast iron shells. The battery in turn was connected to an electrical circuit which in turn was connected to a Nokia 6030 cell phone with a SIM card. An alarm for 1.22 pm was set on the phone. Thus the cell phone served both as a timer and also the power source to trigger the circuit that would then result in the explosion of the IED. Each IED was neatly placed in a black iron box which in turn was placed in a rexine bag.

RSS poster boy CM Narendra Modi in attendance at Asimananda’s ashram

RSS poster boy CM Narendra Modi in attendance at Asimananda’s ashram

The International Mobile Equipment Identifier — IMEI is a unique 15-digit international number given to a cellphone by its manufacturer — of the Nokia 6030 phone revealed that the handset had been sold by a vendor in Faridabad. When the CBI sleuths questioned the shopkeeper they found that the buyer had purchased two similar Nokia 6030 phones.

The Vodafone SIM card found inside the handset was traced to a shop named Sargam Audio Vision in the town of Chittaranjan in Bardhaman district, West Bengal. The records maintained at the shop and also that by Vodafone showed that the SIM card was sold to a person named Babu Lal Yadav in June 2006.

But on verification the police discovered that the address proof document submitted while obtaining the SIM card was actually forged and Babu Lal Yadav was a fictitious person.

The analysis of calls made and received on this SIM card further revealed that there were no incoming calls or outgoing calls to any individual.

The CBI then wrote to all cellular service providers to find out if there were more such SIM cards which were purchased in the name of Babu Lal Yadav. It emerged that there were in all 11 SIM cards which were bought either by using the same name or by using the same photograph and fake address and identity proof.

Terror linkages Indresh Kumar speaking at Shabri Kumbh in 2006

Terror linkages Indresh Kumar speaking at Shabri Kumbh in 2006

These SIM cards were purchased during the period of seven months between June and December 2006 from as many as seven shops — three shops in Bardhaman district, West Bengal, and four in Jamtara, Jharkhand.

On further investigation, it was revealed that all these 11 SIM cards had been used in as many as nine mobile handsets. The CBI tracked down all the shops from where these handsets were purchased. It emerged that two handsets were purchased from Faridabad (as mentioned above), three from Bardhaman, three from Jamtara and one from Gaffar Market in Delhi.

Statements of all the shopkeepers from whom these SIM cards and cell phones were purchased were recorded by the CBI. But the trail soon went cold as the identity of those who had bought these phones and SIM cards remained a mystery.

As the Mecca Masjid probe appeared to hit a dead end, on 11 October 2007, during the month of Ramzan, a powerful bomb went off at Ajmer Sharif dargah, killing three people and injuring over a dozen.

As luck would have it, like in the case of Mecca Masjid, one IED malfunctioned and did not explode. This IED was an exact replica of the Mecca Masjid device.

On investigation, the Rajasthan ATS on investigation found that the SIM card and the cell phone of the unexploded device were from the same series of SIM cards and cell phones that the CBI had compiled in the course of their investigation.

It was now clear that the Mecca Masjid and Ajmer Sharif blasts were parts of the same terror conspiracy. So, the Rajasthan ATS and the CBI began working in close coordination. A hunt was launched to find the remaining five cell phones from the series (four had already been used in the Mecca Masjid and Ajmer IEDs).

AS THE two agencies groped in the dark, on 29 September 2008, a bomb concealed in a motorcycle exploded at Bhikku Chowk, a Muslim neighbourhood in Malegaon. Simultaneously, a bomb went off in a small Gujarat town named Modassa. Like in Malegaon, the bomb was concealed in a motorbike and the blast took place in a Muslim locality when special Ramzan prayers were being offered.

Dayanand Pandey’s laptop led to the recovery of evidence in the shape of 37 audio and three video clips

The Maharashtra ATS under its then chief Hemant Karkare carried out an excellent forensic investigation and retrieved the chassis number of the motorcycle used in the Malegaon blast. The motorcycle belonged to self-styled Hindu leader Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur. Her arrest led to a series of other arrests including serving Lt Col Purohit and a Hindu religious leader Dayanand Pandey.

Pandey’s laptop led to the recovery of crucial evidence in the shape of 37 audio and three video clips. These audio and video files were recordings of terror conspiracy meetings which Pandey, Purohit and others had held, which Pandey had secretly filmed using the web camera and audio recording facility inbuilt in his laptop.

The recordings comprised a solid evidence of a wider Hindutva terror conspiracy. In one of the files the accused could also be heard talking about Swami Asimananda in glowing terms, which showed that he was known to the accused.

Upon hearing the news of Sadhvi Pragya’s arrest, Asimananda absconded. Pragya also revealed that three RSS pracharaks from Madhya Pradesh — Sunil Joshi, Ramchandra Kalsangra and Sandeep Dange — were also key conspirators. While Joshi had already been murdered under mysterious circumstances in December 2007, Kalsangra and Dange went underground before the ATS could arrest them.

IN JULY 2009, the Rajasthan ATS detected that four of the five cellphones they had been looking for were being used by a group of RSS workers in two villages — Chapri and Khardaun Kala — of Kalapipal Tehsil in Shajapur district, Madhya Pradesh. The ATS discovered these phones with the help of their IEMI numbers.

The RSS workers in question were Chandrashekhar Leve, Vishnu Patidar, Ravindra Patidar and Santosh Patidar.

THE RADICAL BUNCH
The men who played crucial roles in Hindutva terror

INDRESH KUMAR, an RSS central committee member, accused of mentoring and financing the RSS pracharaks behind Malegaon, Samjhauta, Ajmer and Mecca Masjid terror strikes.

SWAMI ASIMANANDA, the head of the Shabri Dham in Dangs, Gujarat. He allegedly selected Malgeaon, Ajmer Sharif and Hyderabad as terror targets.

SUNIL JOSHI, a former RSS E pracharak of Mhow district. Along with Hindu radicals from Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and, Rajasthan, he formed an inter-state terror infrastructure.

SANDEEP DANGE, a senior RSS pracharak from Shajapur district near Indore. Along with Joshi and Ramchandra Kalsangra, he was a key figure in the Hindutva terror conspiracy.

RAM CHANDRA KALSANGRA ALIAS RAMJI, an RSS pracharak from Madhya Pradesh. He carried out a series of terror strikes between December 2002 and 2008.

SHIVAM DHAKHAD, an RSS activist. He allegedly took training in bomb-making in 2005. He also did a reconnaissance of Aligarh Muslim University and residence of Justice UC Banerjee.

LT COL SHRIKANT PUROHIT, a founding member of terror outfit Abhinav Bharat. He is accused of supplying RDX for the 2008 Malegaon blasts.

DEVENDRA GUPTA, the RSS vibhag pracharak of Muzaffarnagar, Bihar. He provided logistics and safe havens to Joshi, Kalsangra and Dange for terror strikes.

LOKESH SHARMA, an RSS worker and associate of Joshi, Dange and Kalsangra. He bought the two Nokia handsets used in the bombs at Mecca Masjid and Ajmer.

BHARAT RATESWAR , a Hindu radical from Valsad in Gujarat. He participated in terror meetings held in Gujarat. He also travelled to Jharkhand and Uttar Pradesh providing logistics for the blasts.

YOGI ADITYANATH, BJP MP from Gorakhpur. He was contacted by Asimananda to provide funds for terrorist activities. Joshi held a hush-hush meeting with him at his residence.

DR ASHOK VARSHNAY, RSS prant pracharak of Kanpur. He sheltered key terror accused and RSS pracharak Devendra Gupta at Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram in Sitapur, Uttar Pradesh.

RAJESH MISHRA, an RSS activist and owner of a foundry in Pithampura, near Mhow. He gave 15 cast iron shells in 2001 to Joshi, who used them for blasts.

SUDHAKAR DHAR DWIVEDI ALIAS DAYANAND PANDEY, he ran an ashram in Jammu. He played the role of an ideologue to those involved in the 2008 Malegaon blasts.

The investigation revealed that the absconding accused, Dange, was a close friend of Leve. While Dange was the RSS jila pracharak of Shajapur district between 2000 and 2005, Leve was RSS jila sampark pramukh of the same district.

The Rajasthan ATS recorded the statements of more than half-a-dozen RSS workers who stated that, before running off, Dange had handed over all the four phone sets to Leve. While Leve had thrown away one phone after it stopped functioning, he and his associates continued to use the other three phones.

The ATS seized all the three phones, which now were clinching scientific evidence against this team of RSS pracharaks.

The interrogation of Leve and the Patidars led to the arrest of Devendra Gupta in April 2010. Gupta was originally from Ajmer but had served the RSS in different capacities in Madhya Pradesh and Jharkhand. Gupta gave a detailed account of the visits made by Joshi, Kalsangra and Dange to Jamtada’s RSS office between 2005 and 2007 when Gupta was posted as RSS Jila pracharak in the district.

Gupta revealed that it was during these visits that he helped them in procuring fake identity and address proofs and SIM cards. All SIM cards were procured (as explained above) from two border towns — Chittaranjan (Bardhman district, West Bengal) and Mhijham (Jamtada district, Jharkhand).

All the SIM cards had been procured from the border towns of Mhijham and Chittaranjan

Several people who had witnessed Joshi, Kalsangra and Dange visiting Gupta in Jamtada were examined and their statements were recorded. It was all adding up. Along with Joshi, one more Hindu radical named Bharat Riteshwar from Valsad (Gujarat) had visited the Jamtada office while the logistics for the blasts were being put together.

The ATS tracked down Riteshwar, who gave a detailed eyewitness account before a magistrate, corroborating facts already known to the ATS. Gupta’s interrogation also revealed the role of another RSS activist from Indore, Lokesh Sharma. According to the ATS, Sharma confessed to having played a key role in the terror conspiracy.

Both Riteshwar and Gupta for the first time revealed to the police that RSS central committee member Indresh Kumar was a mentor and financer of Sunil Joshi — the man at the core of the conspiracy.

Riteshwar also told the police that Joshi’s terror activities had the sanction of Indresh. Sharma went further and told the police that Indresh regularly funded Joshi for the terror activities.

In September 2010, the Madhya Pradesh Police arrested a RSS activist named Shivam Dhakhad who was involved in a murder case. In police custody, he revealed that he too was part of the Sunil Joshi-led terror module.

RSS activist Dhakhad revealed in custody that he too was part of the terror module headed by Sunil Joshi

Most importantly, he talked about a terror meeting held on 26 October 2005 in a guest house named Gujarati Samaj Atithigrah in Jaipur, in which Indresh Kumar was also present. According to Dhakhad, Sadhvi Pragya, Kalsangra, Dange and Joshi were also present during the meeting.

If Dhakhad is to be believed, Indresh told all those who had assembled, “The RSS does not support your ideology or actions. So you all can get associated with some other religious organisations and carry on with your work.”

IN SEPTEMBER 2010, the CBI recorded the statement of Rajesh Mishra, an RSS activist from Mhow, Madhya Pradesh, who owned a foundry in Pithampura and was a close associate of Joshi. He stated before the investigating team that he had provided Joshi 15 customised iron pipes with grooves on the inside. A few of these pipes were used in the failed terror strike aimed at the Bhopal ijtema.

Mishra’s statement further confirmed that the modus operandi adopted by the Hindu extremists involved using iron pipes as an important component in the IEDs they assembled.

On 19 November 2010, Swami Asimananda was arrested from his hideout in Haridwar. Exactly a month after his arrest, Asimananda confessed before a Delhi Metropolitan Magistrate, laying bare the broad terror conspiracy in which he had also played a critical part.

Asimananda asserted that it was not Muslims, but a team of RSS pracharaks who were behind the 2006 Malegaon blasts, the Samjhauta Express strike, the Mecca Masjid and Ajmer Sharif bomb blasts.

Blast after blast In a series of terror strikes over a period of two years starting with Malegaon in September 2006, Muslim neighbouhoods and mosques were targeted. Pakistan nationals were also attacked when three blasts on the Samjhauta Express in February 2007 turned several coaches of the running train into an inferno

Blast after blast In a series of terror strikes over a period of two years starting with Malegaon in September 2006, Muslim neighbouhoods and mosques were targeted. Pakistan nationals were also attacked when three blasts on the Samjhauta Express in February 2007 turned several coaches of the running train into an inferno

PHOTOS: AP, SHAILENDRA PANDEY, AFP, REUTERS

Asimananda confessed that he himself had picked Malegaon, Hyderabad and Ajmer Sharif dargah as potential targets, while Sunil Joshi had taken the responsibility of striking the Samjhauta Express.

Asimananda also reproduced the conversations that he had with Indresh Kumar while hatching the terror plot. According to Asimananda, Indresh had picked up Joshi and a few other members of the RSS to carry out the blasts and had partly financed the execution.

Till date, the ATS of Maharashtra and Rajasthan have filed chargesheets in the 2008 Malegaon and 2007 Ajmer Sharif blasts respectively. However, the CBI and National Investigating Agency (NIA) probe into the Mecca Masjid and Samjhauta Express blasts is still an ongoing one.

Though the cases built by the agencies have to still stand the scrutiny of law, due to the sheer volume of evidence, the odds are stacked against the accused.


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From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 8, Issue 3, Dated Jan 22, 2011
 

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