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17 November 2011

Seven India Muslims given bail in 2006 blasts case

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Mumbai: Seven Indian Muslim men were released on bail on Wednesday, five years after they were arrested in connection with a deadly bomb attack that was later blamed on Hindu extremists.

The group were accused of being members of a banned Islamist militant group, the Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI), which was initially said to be behind the attack in the former mill town of Malegaon in western India.

Four bombs went off on September 8, 2006, outside a mosque in the town, some 175 miles (280 kilometres) northeast of Mumbai, as thousands of Muslims gathered for Friday prayers.

Thirty-one people died and more than 300 were injured.

Police said at the time that the bombings -- which came just seven weeks after a series of train blasts in Mumbai killed nearly 190 people and injured over 800 more -- were designed to create "communal tension".

But federal investigators who reviewed the initial local police investigation said earlier this month that they would not oppose the men's bail and concluded there was no direct evidence against them.

Instead, they said Hindu radicals were the likely culprits.

The men were greeted by crowds of cheering supporters waving flags and shouting freedom slogans at Mumbai's high-security Arthur Road jail, where they were being held on remand.

Human Rights Watch said in February this year that the Indian authorities rounded up scores of Muslim men after a wave of bomb blasts in 2008 and in many cases subjected them to torture and ill-treatment.

It also called for a "thorough and impartial" investigation into the arrest and alleged torture in custody of those arrested for the 2006 Malegaon blasts.

The global rights monitor's South Asia director Meenakshi Ganguly on Wednesday welcomed the men's release and told AFP: "There should be lessons learned and compensation given."

Two other men arrested in connection with the blasts remain in custody as they are also suspects in the 2006 Mumbai train attacks case.

(Courtesy: AFP, November 16, 2011)

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