When blasts took place first at the Ajmer Dargah near Jaipur and then at the Mecca Masjid in Hyderabad, the police and the government immediately blamed Pakistani-based terror groups like the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) and Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami (HuJi).
The attacks in Ajmer and Hyderabad took place nearly five months apart in 2007. Three people were killed in the Ajmer attack; another nine died in the Hyderabad explosion. Immediately after them, young Muslims were arrested in Hyderabad for Mecca Masjid blasts.
Three years later, new evidence suggests that the investigating agencies and the government got it all wrong. The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) says it believes that radical Hindu groups planned those blasts.
What’s led to this new theory is the arrests last week of three men by the Rajasthan Anti-Terror Squad. They were tracked down because they were using SIM cards found in the debris after the attack at Ajmer.
The men arrested are all Hindus, and are believed to be associated to Abhinav Bharat, a Hindu radical group that India confronted for the first time in 2006.
In September 2006, a series of blasts in Malegaon in Maharashtra left 37 people dead and another 25 injured. Almost two years later, Mumbai Police Anti-Terrorism Squad arrested Sadhvi Pragya Thakur on October 10, 2008 and then serving army officer, Lieutenant Colonel S P Purohit, believed to be the leaders of Abhinav Bharat. Their alleged agenda: to target Muslim crowds.
Purohit, in recent interrogation, has allegedly said that a man named Sunil Joshi was behind the Ajmer blast. That’s what the Rajasthan police also suspects. Sunil Joshi, who was an RSS pracharak in Madhya Pradesh’s Mhow area, had links with Devendra Gupta, the first suspect arrested in the Ajmer Dargah case. Joshi, a resident of Indore, was killed in Dewas in December 2007. The call details of Gupta indicate that both were in touch.
“Colonel Purohit, arrested for Malgaon blast, has confessed that Sunil Joshi had organised the Dargah operation with the help of Devendra Gupta,” Rajasthan Home Minister Shanti Dhariwal told the Hindu newspaper on May 2.
The CBI says that in both the Ajmer and Hyderabad blasts, identical explosives were used. Cellphones triggered both bombs.
So in two different cities, Pakistani groups were held responsible, and young Muslims paid the price. Muslims like Ibrahim Junaid, who, along with 25 others, was picked up from the Old City of Hyderabad and accused of terror links. They were reportedly tortured in illegal custody. There was no chargesheet accusing them of links to the Mecca Masjid attack. Instead they were accused of conspiring to wage war against the state, of preparing and playing out CDs of the Gujarat communal riots of 2002 to create communal tension.
Junaid was at that time was a Unani doctor; he was finally acquitted after 2 years.
“Without proof, they arrested our children. They didn’t even inform us. We didn’t know their whereabouts for 7-8 days,” said Arifunnisa, Junaid’s mother.
All 26 men were later acquitted but they say the stigma never goes away. Junaid says, “When there is a blast, youth of a particular community are targeted. They are playing with our lives. That happened to me. I lost a year in college. I was not able to do my MD because of this.”
Junaid and some of the other Muslims who were arrested have gone to court seeking compensation.
“We are demanding compensation from the police officers who tortured us. That they should be made to pay compensation from their salary, says Rayeesuddin.
CBI chief Ashwani Kumar on Monday said that there was a link between the three alleged hardline Hindutva activists arrested for 2007 blast in Ajmer and the Mecca Masjid, pointing to a network of saffron terror larger than so far believed.
“There is a link between the Ajmer blast and Mecca Masjid blast,” Kumar said on the sidelines of the annual D P Kohli Memorial Lecture on Monday.
The CBI chief said the Rajasthan police along with their Andhra Pradesh counterparts and the CBI have been working on the links for the last six months. “We are coordinating our efforts. For the time being, we can only say that there is a link. We are hopeful of cracking the case,” Kumar added.
Radical Hindutva formations have already been identified as allegedly responsible for the second terror attack on Malegaon. With investigations suggesting that the Hindutva radicals had the motivation, reach and access to resources that they has so far not been suspected of, police will be looking closely at any sign of their involvement in other unsolved cases of attacks on Muslim targets — like the attack on Jama Masjid in the capital.
The Maharashtra police have chargesheeted alleged jehadis in the first attack on a Malegaon mosque, but a demand to re-examine the case is very much likely.
With the CBI breaking its silence over the alleged links between the two cases, Hyderabad-based Muslim groups called upon CBI to not just revisit the Mecca case but also probe the involvement of alleged Hindu terrorists Col P S Purohit and Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur who are accused in the 2008 Malegaon bombing.
According to the agency, links have also been found with the Malegaon blast. Sources said that the links had been established due to the use of the similar modus operandi and explosives. The Rajasthan police informed CBI, which is probing the Mecca case, about the arrest last week of three accused — Devender Gupta, Vishnu Patidar and Chandrashekhar Patidar — in the Ajmer shrine blast case. The accused have links with the group, Abhinav Bharat.
Unfinished stories, goes an old idiom in Ajmer, find their denouement in Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti’s shrine. Perhaps, unfinished investigations do too. Two-and-a-half years after low-intensity blasts ripped apart the courtyard of the centuries-old shrine, the Rajasthan police arrested three men—Devendra Gupta, Vishnu Prasad and Chandrashekhar Patidar. Gupta, an RSS worker, was suspected to have bought the mobile phone and SIM card that triggered off the October 2007 blast in which three were killed. Till their arrest on April 30 this year, the story narrated by the investigators, lapped up by the establishment and reiterated in large sections of the media was that the Ajmer blast was the handiwork of jehadi terrorists.
The SIM-mobile phone-detonated bombs are similar in Ajmer and Mecca Masjid blasts, with RDX-TNT mix in proportion used by the Indian army.
The one troubling question—would jehadis target Muslim devout at a dargah?—can have complicated answers, as the body count at Lahore’s Data Ganj Baksh would testify. But in India, the question wasn’t even deemed worthy of being asked as a reasonable line of inquiry. The needle of suspicion remained firmly and automatically fixed on Islamic terrorists—young men from the community were detained at various stages of the investigation and interrogated at length—until the trail finally led to Gupta and pointed to radical Hindu nationalist groups instead. Says Rajasthan Anti-Terrorist Squad chief Kapil Garg: “We have arrested some people of that religion (Hinduism) and we’re dead sure we’re on the right track.”
In Hyderabad too, the CBI team believes it is on the right track, finally, in the Mecca Masjid bomb blasts case. Four men belonging to radical Hindu groups were arrested this May for triggering a high-intensity bomb that went off in the masjid complex in May 2007, killing 14 and injuring some 50. At that time, the Hyderabad police had said it was most likely the work of the Harkat-ul-Jehad-e-Islami (HuJI), backed by local logistical support; some 26 Muslim men were picked up, interrogated, forced to confess and detained for up to six months.
The terror trail in India changed after the Maharashtra ATS’s investigations into the 2008 Malegaon blasts, which alerted them to Abhinav Bharat.
The story followed this script till the CBI found evidence to the contrary: the SIM card-and-mobile phone-detonated explosives packed in metal tubes were strikingly similar to the Ajmer blasts contraption. Tellingly, both bombs are believed to have contained a deadly mix of RDX and TNT, in proportions often used by the Indian army. CBI director Ashwani Kumar told the media that an activist named Sunil Joshi “played a key role in orchestrating the Ajmer blast… and a set of mobile SIM cards that had been used in activation of the bomb-triggers in the Mecca Masjid blast was used again in the Ajmer blast”.
Around the same time, officers of the National Investigating Agency (NIA) filed a chargesheet in a Panjim court accusing 11 people, all Hindus and members of the ultra-right-wing Sanathan Sanstha, of masterminding and executing the October 2009 Margao blasts that killed the two people ferrying the explosives to a local festival. Investigation in Pune’s German Bakery blast this February has run aground after the initial suspicion, detaining and interrogation of suspected Muslim men, some believed to be members of “sleeper cells of jehadi groups” or the Indian Mujahideen (IM). When Abdul Samad was arrested last month, the Maharashtra ATS actively encouraged the understanding that he was the man caught on CCTV cameras in the bakery that night. However, Samad was never charged with the blast and subsequently let off in other cases too.
September 8, 2006
* Initial arrests: Arrested include Salman Farsi, Farooq Iqbal Makhdoomi, Raees Ahmed, Noorul Huda Samsudoha and Shabbir Batterywala.
* Later revelation: Suspicion now rests on Hindu terrorists because of the 2008 blasts.
Samjhauta Express Blasts
February 18, 2007
68 dead, mostly Pakistanis
* Initial suspicion: LeT and JeM were blamed. Those arrested included Pakistani national Azmat Ali.
* Later revelation: Police have seen the evidence trail lead to right-wing Hindu activists. Investigators claim the triggering mechanism for the Mecca masjid blast three months later was similar to the one used here. Police are looking for RSS pracharaks Sandeep Dange and Ramji.
Mecca Masjid Blast
May 18, 2007
* Initial arrests: Around 80 Muslims detained for questioning and 25 arrested. Several have now been acquitted, including Ibrahim Junaid, Shoaib Jagirdar, Imran Khan and Mohammed Adul Kaleem.
* Later revelation: In June 2010 the CBI announced a cash reward of Rs 10 lakh for information on the two accused, Sandeep Dange and Ramchandra Kalsangra. Lokesh Sharma arrested.
Ajmer Sharif Blast
October 11, 2007
* Initial arrests: HuJI, LeT blamed. Those arrested include Abdul Hafiz Shamim, Khushibur Rahman, Imran Ali.
* Later revelation: In 2010, Rajasthan ATS arrests Devendra Gupta, Chandrashekhar and Vishnu Prasad Patidar. Accused Sunil Joshi, who was killed weeks before the blast, is believed to have been a key planner.
Thane Cinema Blast
June 4, 2008
* Affiliated to Hindu Janjagruti Samiti and Sanathan Sanstha, Ramesh Hanumant Gadkari and Mangesh Dinkar Nikam arrested. Blast planned to oppose the screening of Jodhaa Akbar.
Kanpur And Nanded Bomb Mishaps
* Two members of Bajrang Dal—Rajiv Mishra and Bhupinder Singh—were killed while assembling bombs in Kanpur. In April 2006, N. Rajkondwar and H. Panse from the same outfit died under similar circumstances in a bomb-making workshop in Nanded.
Malegaon Blasts II
September 29, 2008
* Initial suspicion: Groups like Indian Mujahideen involved
* Later revelation: Abhinav Bharat and Rashtriya Jagaran Manch accused of involvement. Arrested include Pragya Singh Thakur, Lt Col Srikant Purohit and Swami Amritanand Dev Tirth, also known as Dayanand Pandey.
October 16, 2009
* 2 dead Both accused are members of the Sanathan Sanstha. Malgonda Patil and Yogesh Naik were riding a scooter laden with explosives, which accidentally went off.
Terror trails in India dramatically changed with the Malegaon blasts investigation in September-October 2008. Led by then Maharashtra ATS chief Hemant Karkare, who was subsequently killed on the night of 26/11, the investigation pointed to Abhinav Bharat (AB), an ultra-right-wing Pune-based organisation established in 2005-06, and its members or affiliates. What Karkare’s teams managed to uncover is part of recent history and should have become the basis of examining and monitoring the new phenomenon of Hindutva terror but didn’t.
The Hindutva links to Mecca Masjid, Ajmer and other low-intensity blasts have been in the public domain for close to two years; the signs were visible since 2002-03 when an ied found at the Bhopal railway station was traced back to local Hindutva activists Ramnarayan Kalsangra and Sunil Joshi. They were questioned, but no evidence was found. Yet, it prompted Congress leader Digvijay Singh to declare a Bajrang Dal hand. Later in 2006, there were explosions in the houses of Hindutva activists in Nanded and Kanpur, where ieds were being prepared. Through that year, mosques in several towns in Maharashtra—Purna, Parbhani, Jalna—were rocked by low-intensity blasts; the Nanded one was meant for a mosque in Aurangabad. Recovered with a map of Aurangabad were false beards and Muslim male outfits. That should have been warning enough.
However, till May-June this year, the establishment did not either see these warning signals or chose to ignore them—except for a brief two-month period in 2008 when Karkare led the Malegaon probe. Now, it may be difficult to sustain the denial. “For the last 10 years, stories about Hindu right-wing violence have been trickling out. Instead of a systematic investigation, there has been an event-to-event investigation. The larger story has remained underinvestigated and under-reported,” says Mumbai advocate and human rights campaigner Mihir Desai. The CBI is only now seeking directions from the Union home ministry to see the Ajmer, Mecca Masjid, Malegaon and other blasts in conjunction after there has been no conclusive evidence of the involvement of Islamic groups.
Malegaon 2008 provided the much-needed aperture to review the role of Hindutva groups. In September that year, eight people were killed and many injured in a low-intensity blast. The ATS investigation led to Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur, whose motorcycle was used to explode the bomb, and then to 13 others, including self-styled guru Dayanand Pandey and Lt Col Prasad Shrikant Purohit, the first-ever serving officer to be charged. During interrogation, he had disclosed to ATS investigators that he had provided the RDX in the Mecca Masjid blasts too but the ATS was reportedly asked not to make it public as the Hyderabad police had detained HuJI suspects. The similarity with the Ajmer Sharif blasts was evident too.
The 4,528-page chargesheet filed in the Malegaon case offers insight into the grand design of the Abhinav Bharat and its affiliates. Purohit, the Sadhvi and others had spoken to one another “to avenge bomb attacks on Hindu shrines” and had engineered a series of blasts with the larger ambition to establish a “separate Hindu rashtra”. Abhinav Bharat—whose original avatar was started by Veer Savarkar, later disbanded, and restarted by Himani Savarkar—was set up to achieve this ambition. “This organised crime syndicate,” states the chargesheet, “wanted to adopt a national flag, that is, a solo-themed saffron flag with a golden border…with an ancient golden torch.”
Malegaon honoured Karkare by naming a chowk after him—the tribute of a relieved town to a man they believed would have led them to the truth about the September 2006 blasts too. Three bombs had gone off that Friday afternoon near a mosque and cemetery, killing 37 and injuring 100. Typically, Muslim men alleged to be members of the proscribed SIMI were picked up, interrogated and forced to confess. But the chargesheet had several loopholes—main accused Mohammed Zahid, though a SIMI activist, was leading prayers in a village 700 km from Malegaon that day; conspirator Shabbir Masiuallah had been in police custody a month before the blasts, police sketches made on the basis of eyewitness accounts showed clean-shaven men while all accused had kept beards for years.
The Rajasthan ATS now believes that Devendra Gupta, linked to the Ajmer blasts, was in touch with AB members through RSS pracharak Sunil Joshi. Providing the other end of the link, the Maharashtra ATS says the Sadhvi, enraged when Joshi was killed by suspected SIMI activists in September 2007, ordered the 2008 Malegaon blast. Joshi has also been linked to the Samjhauta Express blasts which killed 68 people, all Pakistanis. The evidence has come from Purohit’s reported phone conversation as narrated by an unnamed witness.
Yet, the story has several loose ends, most critical among them being fugitives Ramnarayan Kalsangra, Swami Aseemanand and others. Kalsangra, investigators in Maharashtra and Rajasthan say, was introduced to Devendra Gupta by the Sadhvi and is believed to be an expert at assembling bombs. Finding Kalsangra is crucial since all accused in custody have named him as “the man”. Ajmer, Mecca Masjid, Malegaon, Samjhauta Express and several other blasts are clearly part of a larger story. Only when the CBI puts all the pieces together will the entire Hindutva terror picture emerge, if at all.
Investigations and allegations
Hindu extremist organisations have been accused of involvement in terrorist attacks including 2006 Malegaon blasts, Mecca Masjid bombing (Hyderabad), Samjhauta Express bombings and the Ajmer Sharif Dargah Blast.
Investigation of Ajmer Dargah blast
A blast shook the sufi shrine of Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti at Ajmer on 11 October 2007 at 6:20 pm, leaving two dead and eleven injured. The blast was initially blamed on the Pakistani terrorist group LeT. However, in 2010, The ATS arrested five individuals for the blast, four of whom were members of the Hindu Nationalist group RSS. Swami Aseemanand, in his confession, also admitted the involvement of former RSS members and the Inter-Services Intelligence in the blast. Aseemanand later retracted his “confession” and his lawyer said the confession was not voluntary and made under extreme pressure.
Investigation of Samjhauta Express bombing
Initially the primary suspects of the bombing were considered to be Pakistan-based terror groups like the LeT and the JeM. In November 2008, it was reported that Indian officials also suspected the attacks were linked to Prasad Shrikant Purohit, an Indian army officer and member of Hindu nationalist group Abhinav Bharat. Wikileaks reports name David Headley as behind the Samjhauta attacks. On January 8, 2011, Swami Aseemanand allegedly confessed that Saffron terror outfits were behind the bombing of Samjhauta express, a statement later alleged to be obtained under duress. His confessions included allegations that Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) was supporting the activities logistically. On March 31, 2011 Aseemanand redacted his confession, citing government pressure. Security analyst B. Raman has termed this investigation as a “partisan political game.”. On July 18, 2011 Swami Aseemanand further unveiled that NIA had fabricated evidence against him and his arrest was illegal. He further alleged that he was tortured to give wrong statements. On November 29, 2011 the Punjab and Haryana High Court issued notice to the NIA on a petition filed by Swami Aseemanand. Kamal Chauhan a former RSS member confessed that he planted a bomb on the Delhi-Lahore Samjhauta Express that killed 68 people. This was under the leadership of Joshi a former RSS zila pracharak in Madhya Pradesh, who quit RSS for its diversion from the core idealogies.
Investigation of 2008 Malegaon blasts
Police filed a chargesheet that named Indian Army officer Lt Col Prasad Purohit as the alleged main conspirator who provided the explosives, and Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur as the alleged prime accused who arranged for the men who planted the explosives.
A 4,000-page chargesheet, filed by Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) before the Special MCOCA court here, stated that Purohit joined the right-wing Hindu group Abhinav Bharat in 2007 with an alleged intention to ‘propagate a separate Hindu Rashtra with its own Constitution’. According to the document, the Army officer allegedly collected ‘huge amounts’ to the tune of Rs 21 lakh for himself and Abhinav Bharat to promote his “fundamentalist ideology.”
It was in the aftermath of the September 29 bomb blast in the predominantly Muslim town of Malegaon in Maharashtra that the alleged terms Saffron Terror and Hindutva Terror came to be used widely in various medias.  However, the accused parties confessed to police on narco-analysis that a group of Muslim individuals was used to obtain the RDX used in the blast. However, Purohit allegedly admitted that a splinter group with tenuous ties to him had executed two blasts in India, which prompted investigators to look into the blasts in Ajmer and Hyderabad.
Three men accused of the 2006 Malegaon bombings, including Lt Col Shrikant Purohit of the India army and Pragya Singh Thakur, have been described as representing Saffron terror.  Purohit was also accused of being involved in the 2007 Samjhauta Express bombings }</ref>