An Officer, But Not A Gentleman?
The arrest of an army officer has raised fears of a new dimension to terror, reports RANA AYYUB
WHILE INVESTIGATIONS into the Malegaon blast of September 29, which killed six people at a mosque just before Eid, have yielded conclusive proof of the involvement of extremist groups in the attack, they have also provided worrying evidence of the participation of army personnel in its plotting and execution. The disturbing trend came to light with the arrest of military intelligence officer Lt Colonel Srikant Purohit, India’s first serving army officer ever to be arrested. According to Anti- Terrorism Squad (ATS) officials, Purohit had siphoned off money from the military to fund Abhinav Bharat, a two-year-old right-wing extremist organisation implicated in the blasts. During questioning, Purohit allegedly said he came in contact with Abhinav Bharat’s working president and blast case prime accused, Major (retd) Ramesh Upadhyay, during postings with military intelligence in Nashik and Pune. He is said to have told the police he was influenced by terror attacks across the country and the violence he had seen in Kashmir between 2000 and 2005, when he was on intelligence wing postings in places like Kupwara and Anantnag. Purohit had then been part of the MI-25, also known as the Intelligence Field Security Unit, whose main job is to run sources across the border. Though the investigating agencies deny that Purohit masterminded the Malegaon attack, they call him one of its key conspirators.
Purohit’s links with the Bhonsala Military School commandant Col (retd) SS Raikar and with Upadhyay, both under arrest, suggest that more armymen could be involved. Purohit has allegedly organised meetings at Deolali with men involved in the blasts and ex-army men.
Purohit underwent narcoanalysis and brain-mapping tests, in Bangaluru on November 9. He is due to be produced in the Nashik magistrate’s court on November 15, where further details of his invol - vement could be revealed. ATS officials have said they are also trying to establish his role in the 2004 blasts in Maharashtra’s Marathwada region, as well as in the explosion apparently caused by a bomb going off accidentally at an RSS worker’s house in Nanded in 2006. Several factfinding agencies point to Purohit and Mithun Chakraborty, as being the same person. Chakraborty was named by one of the Nanded accused as an arms trainer in Sinhagad, Pune. He has so far evaded arrest; the accused’s statement made under narcoanalysis described him as a tall, well-built man who sported a beard and was known as ‘Fauji’.
Speaking to TEHELKA, Himani Savarkar, Hindu Mahasabha head and a key Abhinav Bharat member, stated how Purohit told her that “something needed to be done to curb Islamic terrorism”. She added: “He was pained by what he saw and sympathised with Abhinav Bharat’s stand, but wasn’t able to dedicate much time to the outfit because he was in the military.” Savarkar denied any knowledge of Purohit’s role in the blasts, but said people wanted to avenge the deaths of those who died in terror attacks.
ALSO UNDER investigation for the Malegaon blast is the Bhonsala Military School, where 54 people are suspected to have received arms training in 2001; their names were on a laptop Purohit owned, which has unaccountably gone missing during the investigation. The military school has been the venue for Bajrang Dal camps, where the terror plot is said to have been hatched. A meeting was also held here this April, which all the blast accused are said to have attended. TEHELKA spoke to the school’s secretary, Diwakar Kulkarni, who said the school had answered the questionnaire the ATS had sent it on the training camps held on its campus and denied any knowledge of them. However, he seemed to have no answer when asked how the authorities could not have any idea of the training provided at the camps when the school constitution requires its officials to be present at all times, in all meetings.
The ATS has presented five of the accused — Ramesh Upadhyay, Sameer Kulkarni, Ajay Rahirkar, Rakesh Dhawre and Jagdish Mhatre — in the Nashik court, after which they were sent to judicial custody. The court was told that the ATS had discovered that Dhawde, a gun expert, was wanted in the 2003-04 blasts in Jalna, Purna, Parbhani and Nanded. It was also revealed that Rahirkar, Abhinav Bharat’s treasurer, had received a huge sum from hawala transactions, which he supplied to the other accused at Purohit’s behest.
The ATS has also picked up two men from Vapi and Pune, Sunil Ghawre and Anil Mahajan. While Ghawre is an active member of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Hindu Jagran Manch, he was also close to Swami Ashimanand who ran the Shabridham ashram in Gujarat’s Dangs district, which was raided by the ATS. Ghawre was close to both the Swami and Malegaon main accused Pragya Singh Thakur, and apparently helped Thakur plant the motorcycle used in the explosion at the blast site. The ATS has also intensified its search in Malegaon for locals who would have played a key role in the attack. If sources are to be believed, some men, including a doctor, have already been detained. Meanwhile, the political angle to the case has also become obvious with the ATS filing an application in the Nashik court to question a high-profile BJP leader from UP. Public prosecutor Ajay Misra said the application had been filed after the UP Government failed to cooperate. The leader in question is speculated to be a BJP MLA from UP, and is a close assosiate of Yogi Adityanath, a BJP leader in eastern UP. The police have also reportedly arrested some more people from UP, including a high profile seer. The police is also reported to have detained some more people from UP in the case.
While the investigation has revealed the hand of ultra right-wing terror organisations behind previous blasts, it has also woken up investigating agencies in other states to look at other blasts in a new light. If sources are to be believed, an Andhra Pradesh police team will visit Mumbai to interrogate those arrested in the Mecca Masjid blasts once the ATS finishes its interrogation. Meanwhile the Central Bureau of Investigations (CBI), which had been accused of laxity in the Nanded blasts case, appears also to have woken up. A team of CBI officials came to Mumbai recently and met ATS officials. CBI director Ashwani Kumar also said that there seemed to be a possible link between the Nanded and the Malegaon blasts.
With nine people arrested so far and numerous detentions made every week, the truth about the army personnel’s involvement in the Malegaon blasts may finally be coming out.