Accused in Mecca Masjid Blast acquitted

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Facts

Eleven years after an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) ripped through the heritage Mecca Masjid near Charminar in Hyderabad (now in Telangana) claiming nine lives and injuring 58 persons and with the probe being handed from local police to CBI to NIA, A special court of the National Investigation Agency (NIA) on 16th april acquitted five men, including Swami Aseemanand, accused of being involved in the Mecca Masjid blast in Hyderabad in 2007 that killed nine people citing lack of evidence.

A special anti-terror court  today acquitted right-wing activist Swami Aseemanand and four others in the 2007 Mecca Masjid blast case, ruling that the prosecution failed to prove charges against them.

A massive blast had ripped through the Mecca Masjid on May 8, 2007, during Friday prayers, killing nine people and wounding 58.

“The prosecution failed to prove allegations against the five accused who faced trial in the case and hence the court acquitted them,” PTI reported Aseemanand’s counsel J P Sharma as telling reporters after the verdict.

Those acquitted by the metropolitan court for NIA case are: Devendra Gupta, Lokesh Sharma, Swami Aseemanand alias Naba Kumar Sarkar, Bharat Mohanlal Rateshwar alias Bharat Bhai and Rajendra Chowdhary, .

Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) worker from Rajasthan Devendra Gupta, Madhya Pradesh property dealer Lokesh Sharma, an employee of a private company in Gujarat Bharat Mohanlal Rateshwar and farmer Rajender Chowdhary were also among the acquitted. Chowdhary is also from Madhya Pradesh.

All the five men were present in the court on 16th April. The case was initially investigated by the local police and the case was transferred to the Central Bureau Of Investigation (CBI), which filed a charge sheet. Subsequently, the National Investigation Agency (NIA) took over the case in 2011. Ten persons allegedly belonging to right-wing organisations were named as accused in the case.

However, only five of them were arrested and faced trial in the case. Two other accused — Sandeep v Dange and Ramchandra Kalsangra — are absconding while another accused Sunil Joshi died. Investigations were continuing against two other accused.

A total of 226 witnesses were examined during the trial and as many as 411 documents were exhibited.
Swami Aseemanand and Bharat Mohanlal Rateshwar are out on bail while three others are lodged in the central prison in Hyderabad under judicial remand.

In March 2017, a court in Rajasthan had sentenced Gupta and another convict to life in jail in the Ajmer Dargah blast

The circumstances as follows

The country’s top anti-terror body can file an appeal against the acquittal of the accused before the high court. The family members of the victims can also approach the high court appealing against their acquittal.

“We will examine the court judgment after we get a copy of the same and decide further course of action,” an NIA official was quoted as saying by news agency ANI

Meanwhile, police sounded an alert in Hyderabad following the judgement and beefed up security in the communally sensitive old city. More than 3,000 policemen and personnel of paramilitary forces were deployed.

Deputy Commissioner of Police v Satyanarayana said police would keep a close watch on the movement of people at sensitive places through CCTV cameras. He said the police would deal firmly with any attempt to disturb law and order.

Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen President Asaduddin Owaisi said justice has not been done and that it was a “malicious and biased” prosecution done by NIA.

“NIA did not deliberately pursue the case. When the accused got the bail, NIA did not appeal seeking cancellation of bail within the mandatory period of 90 days. This itself shows the prosecution was so biased,” the Member of Parliament from Hyderabad said.

“I blame it entirely on the Narendra Modi government and NIA for failing to bring the accused to book and let the criminal off. It is a failure of the Modi government,” he said.

The Mecca Masjid blast adjacent to the historic Charminar on May 18, 2007, during Friday prayers, also injured 58 others. Five more were killed in police firing in violence that followed the blast.

The Hyderabad Police handled the probe initially and suspected Harkat-ul-Jihad-e-Islami (HuJI), a Pakistan-based terrorist group, to be behind the Mecca Masjid blast. More than 90 men – unofficial figures put it at more than 200 – were picked up for interrogation and 21 of them were charge-sheeted.

The police blamed Bilal, linked to HuJI, as the mastermind behind the terror attack. He was later killed in a shoot-out. After a prolonged trial, the Nampally criminal court acquitted all the accused on January 1, 2009, for lack of evidence.

The Central Bureau of Investigation, which took over the case, and NIA charged 10 people after interrogating 226 witnesses. NIA filed three chargesheets in the Mecca Masjid blast case and slapped various provisions of the Indian Penal Code, explosives act and Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act on the accused.

The accused are related to radical Hindu organization Abhinav Bharat, whose members allegedly have ties to RSS.

CBI filed a charge sheet against Gupta and Sharma, who were part of the group led by former RSS pracharak Sunil Joshi. NIA took over from CBI in 2011 and all the cases involving the alleged right-wing workers were handed over to the agency, which filed a supplementary chargesheet against Aseemanand in the case.

Ten people — Gupta, Sharma, Joshi, Aseemanand, Rateshwar, Chowdhary, former RSS pracharak Sandeep Dange, an electrician and RSS activist Ramachandra Kalsangra, Tejram Parmar and Amit Chouhan — were named as accused in the Mecca Masjid blast case. Dange, Kalsangra, Parmar and Chowhan all belong to Madhya Pradesh.

Only five of them — Gupta, Sharma, Aseemanand, Rateshwar and Chowdhary — were arrested and faced trial in the case. A court in Rajasthan sentenced Gupta and another convict to life in jail in March 2017 in the Ajmer Dargah blast case.

Two other accused — Dange and Kalsangra — are absconding and Joshi was shot dead by three unidentified gunmen on December 29, 2007, near his house in Madhya Pradesh’s Dewas in during the course of the investigation in Mecca Masjid blast case.

The investigation against Parmar and Chouhan is still continuing.

Aseemanand and Rateshwar were already out on bail and three other accused are in Hyderabad’s central prison under judicial remand.

Judgement

Special court acquits Aseemanand and four others after 11 years.

Aseemanand had in December, 2011 in his confessional statement before a magistrate in Delhi’s Tis Hazari court owned up to planning terror attacks on Ajmer Sharif, Mecca Masjid and Malegaon blast but later retracted from his statement.

In his confessional statement, Aseemanand had said he and other Hindu activists were involved in bombings at Muslims religious places because they want to answer every islamist terror act with “a bomb for bomb” policy.

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