All including Aseemanand acquitted in Mecca Masjid Blast Case

Written by CJP | Published on: April 16, 2018
All those accused in the 2007 Mecca Masjid blast case have been acquitted by a special NIA court. On May 18, 2007, a pipe bomb exploded in Hyderabad’s Mecca Masjid, killing at least eight people, and wounding more than 50 people. Reports indicate that more than 10,000 people were in the mosque at the time of the explosion. Five other people were also killed when the police "opened fire" after there were riots during Friday prayers on that day. Police also recovered and defused two other live IEDs. The National Investigation Agency (NIA) plans to scrutinise the court’s judgment, after which a further course of action will be determined.

Aseemanand
Image Courtesy: The Indian Express
 
Ten people, all allegedly belonging to the right-wing Hindu organisation Abhinav Bharat, were accused in the case. These included Nabakumar Sarkar alias Swami Aseemanand, Devender Gupta, Lokesh Sharma alias Ajay Tiwari, Mohanlal Rateshwar and Rajender Chowdhary. Two accused–Sandeep Dange and Ramchandra Kalsangra–are still absconding. One of the accused, RSS official Sunil Joshi, was murdered during the investigation.
 
Wrongful detention of Muslim Youth
The Hyderabad Police conducted an initial probe, and reportedly detained more than 50 Muslim youth during the investigation. A fact-finding panel with the state’s minority commission found that the youth were illegally confined and tortured by the police. The youth were all subsequently acquitted, and, as per the National Minority Commission’s recommendation, the state government handed out monetary compensation to them. In September 2013, the High Court set aside the compensation paid to the youth. 
 
How the Investigation and Trial progressed
Following the police probe, Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) took over the Mecca Masjid blast case and filed a chargesheet. In April 2011, the National Investigation Agency (NIA) took over the case. The trial, which concluded last week, took place at the IV Additional Metropolitan Session Court, a special NIA court, at Hyderabad’s Namapally court complex. The verdict was scheduled for today, April 16. The prosecution was led by the NIA’s Chief Public Prosecutor N. Harinath, who interviewed 226 witnesses64 witnesses, including Lt. Col. Shrikant Purohit, turned hostile during the trial. Purohit alleged that neither the CBI nor the NIA recorded his statement. 
 
Aseemanand’s Confession and Retraction
Swami Aseemanand, who was present at the Namapally court today, was arrested by the CBI in November 2010 in Haridwar over his alleged involvement in the Mecca Masjid bomb blast. In December 2010, Aseemanand confessed to plotting the 2006 Malegaon blasts, February 2007’s Samjhauta Express blast, May 2007’s Mecca Masjid blast, and October 2007’s Ajmer Sharif blast, and also implicated certain RSS officials. 
 
In January 2011, following the news of Aseemanand’s confession, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad alleged that the Congress-led government was attempting to "malign the image of Hindu leaders by terming them as terrorists," saying it was the "greatest lie" that Aseemanand had confessed. An editorial in the RSS’ 'Organiser' said it was "…intriguing that only persons named in alleged Hindu radicalism seem to be making 'confessions'," adding, "We have not heard of a Kasab or Afzal Guru or captured jehadi, terrorist making such a confession. Are they so tight-lipped?"
 
However, in March 2011, Aseemanand submitted a letter to an Ajmer court saying, "I have been pressurized mentally and physically by the investigating agencies to confess that I was behind these blasts." He also alleged that the investigative agencies, such as the NIA and the Anti-Terrorist Squad (ATS) were involving his family members in the case, and accused Rajasthan’s ATS unit of not allowing him to engage a lawyer. 
 
Other evidence
Forensic reports from the NIA indicated a link between the 2006 and 2008 Malegaon blasts, the 2007 Ajmer Sharif and Mecca Masjid blasts, the 2008 Modasa and the 2006 Samjhauta Express blasts. In March 2017, Aseemanand was acquitted in the Ajmer Dargah blast case, and later granted bail in the Mecca Masjid blast case. 
 
The curious testimony of Shaikh Abdul Kaleem
In April 2017, Shaik Abdul Kaleem, 27, to whom Aseemanand allegedly admitted his involvement in the Mecca Masjid blast when they were both at Hyderabad’s Chanchalguda Jail, said he wanted to write a memoir, but questioned who would agree to publish it. He said, "When I heard Aseemanand was acquitted in the Ajmer blast case, I could not believe it. I could not believe when he was granted bail in the Mecca Masjid blast case also. I put my life at risk and went to Ajmer and Panchkula to give evidence based on what Aseemanand confessed to me… at Chanchalguda Jail".
 
According to Kaleem, Aseemanand told him "how he and his group planned and executed the blasts, and apologised to me because I had to spend time in jail while he was the accused. He repented that". Kaleem was detained by the police in July 2007 following the Mecca Masjid blast over the suspicion of being involved in terror activities. He was in jail for a year, and was acquitted in July 2008. Since then, he also spent time in jail in relation to another case, and was booked for alleged assault in a third case.