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NIA confirms Army officers’ role in Samjhauta blast, but nailing Colonel Purohit may not be easy

By Syed Nazakat

After two years of investigation and several arrests, the National Investigating Agency (NIA) has concluded that the Samjhauta Express attack in 2007 was the result of a well-thought out plan hatched at least two years before and the four terrorists who planted the bombs on the train belonged to the group Abhinav Bharat. It had allegedly carried out bomb blasts in other parts of the country, too. The bomb blast on the Indo-Pak transborder train killed 68 passengers, mostly Pakistani civilians.

The NIA’s investigation becomes crucial as it confirms that a serving officer and some retired army officers were associated with the right-wing Abhinav Bharat, and that they attended its meetings regularly in which the youth was motivated to take up arms against ‘Islamist terrorism’. “It [Samjhauta attack] was part of a larger conspiracy,” said an NIA officer. “We are establishing the strength and manpower of Abhinav Bharat. There is enough evidence with us to prosecute the culprits.” The officer said the agency would soon submit its supplementary, and perhaps the final, charge-sheet by October 2012.

While the NIA may have successfully cracked the Samjhauta case, it is yet to nail Lt. Col. Prasad Purohit, the first Army officer to be arrested on charge of terrorism. Purohit, a Military Intelligence officer, was arrested in November 2008 on charges of conspiracy in the Malegaon terrorist attack. According to Maharashtra’s Anti-Terror Squad (ATS), while Sadhvi Pragya Singh—another member of Abhinav Bharat—arranged men to plant the explosives, Purohit planned the terrorist attacks and provided the explosives.

Purohit, however, has told the Army’s Court of Inquiry (CoI) that he had penetrated Abhinav Bharat to gain intelligence and that he had kept his bosses in the loop. He claimed that he was tortured and forced to confess his role in different terrorist activities. The NIA may find it tough to prove his involvement, because evidence against Purohit was collected by Maharashtra ATS and listed in its charge-sheet. This is unlikely to hold water particularly after many senior officers deposed in favour of Purohit in the CoI. Though he is accused of stealing 60 kg RDX from the Army depot in Jammu and Kashmir and passing it on to the bomb planters, the trail is yet to be established.

But, for the first time, the NIA identified the four men who planted bombs on the train. Of these Kamal Chauhan and Lokesh Sharma have been arrested while Ramji alias Ramchandra Kalsangra and Sandeep Dange are still at large. The NIA has announced a reward of Rs 10 lakh for information on Ramji and Sandeep. According to an NIA officer, the accused were members of Abhinav Bharat and had received arms training. The bomb planters were divided into two teams, two members each. Each member planted one IED. All four belong to Madhya Pradesh and were allegedly associated with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).

Kamal Chauhan, a disgruntled RSS worker, who was arrested on February 14, 2012, from Noida, provided details about the sequence of events and the role played by each person in the attack. The NIA status report said that the men received arms and explosives training at Karni Singh shooting range in Faridabad (Haryana) and Bagli in Dewas (Madhya Pradesh). The bombs were assembled and stored at a rented place in the Bengali Chauraha locality in Indore. The agency is now investigating whether the four men, allegedly Bajrang Dal activists, who were killed in separate incidents in Kanpur and Nanded in 2006 while assembling bombs were part of the same terror ring.

In his confession statement, Swami Aseemanand, arrested in 2010 by the CBI and handed over to the NIA a month later, admitted that the terrorist attacks in Malegaon in 2006 and 2008, in Ajmer Sharif in 2007 and Mecca Masjid in 2007 were carried out by them as they wanted to answer every terror act committed by Muslims with a ‘bomb for bomb’ policy. Later, he retracted his statement alleging he was pressured to confess his role in the blasts. That complicated the NIA’s case. Added to it, the agency failed to file any charge-sheet against Lokesh Sharma in the stipulated time, allowing him to get bail.

But, Chauhan’s confession unravelled how the group led by Aseemanand plotted the attacks on Samjhauta and how the men were trained to carry out terrorist attacks and how the outfit’s top operative, Sunil Joshi, was killed after the Samjhauta blasts to destroy evidence against the ring leaders. Apparently, Joshi knew too much about the terror conspiracy and his commanders were wary of being exposed.

July 29, 2012, THE WEEK)

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