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12 June 2013

Mistaken arrest of Muslim youths "extremely unfortunate": Minister

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After finding the real culprits in the 2006 Malegaon blasts, the government has vowed to put an end to wrongful detentions.

By Akhtar Ali

Kolkata: Now that four Hindu extremists have been chargesheeted in a 2006 terror attack in the western town of Malegaon, a top Indian official has called the arrest and incarceration of Muslim youths in the case "extremely unfortunate" and vowed such errors will not be repeated.

The National Investigation Agency (NIA) filed a chargesheet on May 22nd in a special Mumbai court against four Hindu men for four serial blasts in Malegaon, Maharashtra on September 8th, 2006 that killed 38 Muslims.

"The government's decision to hand over the investigation to the NIA was a right move," Minister of State for Home Affairs R.P.N. Singh told Khabar South Asia. "It's extremely unfortunate that some innocent people were arrested and chargesheeted in the case. We will take all necessary actions to ensure that such [an] incident is not repeated in future."

The search for the culprits

According to the NIA chargesheet, Dhan Singh, Rajendra Chaudhary, Manohar Narwaria and Lokesh Sharma—ex-members of the Hindu extremist group Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) – planted the improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in the pre-dominantly Muslim town of Malegaon. All are now in police custody.

The document also lists Ramchandra Kalsangra and Sandeep Dange as absconders and masterminds behind the Malegaon bombing and several other blasts across the country.

The NIA alleges the Hindu activists manufactured the four bombs in Indore, Madhya Pradesh. They fit the bombs to bicycles and planted them at spots in Malegaon, including a cemetery next to a mosque. The bombs killed 38 people and injured more than 125 others on the Muslim holy night of Shab-e-Baraat.

Soon after, the Maharashtra Anti-Terror Squad (ATS) began rounding up Muslims as suspects.

The ATS chargesheeted 13 Muslim youths, claiming the case solved. It was then handed over to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), which endorsed the findings. Four of the Muslims chargesheeted by the ATS and CBI absconded; nine were jailed.

RSS leader confesses to terror acts

The NIA, established after the 2008 Mumbai attacks to investigate national terrorist cases, was asked to probe the Malegaon case after Hindu activists were arrested by police in connection with other terror attacks in India.

In 2011, the arrested leader of the Rashtriya Swayamseyvak Sangh (RSS), Swami Aseemanand, confessed that he and other Hindu militants were involved in bombings at several Muslim religious sites, including in Malegaon.

Following that confession, seven of the Muslim youths were released on bail, after more than five years in jail. Two others were refused bail after being accused in another terror case.

The May 22nd chargesheeting of operatives from the right wing group has brought additional relief to the wrongly accused, though they have not yet been exonerated.

One of them, Noorul Huda, said his arrest by the ATS brought ignominy to his life.

"NIA has not given a clean chit to me officially, it's true," Huda told Khabar. "But after the Hindu activists have been chargesheeted in the case by the NIA, the whole country believes that I was innocent and ATS arrested me wrongfully."

Huda also complimented the NIA on a good job and said he would soon be honourably discharged from the case. "The NIA chargesheet has brought relief to my family," he said.

Former Malegaon MLA (Member of Legislative Assembly) and local Muslim community leader Rashid Shaikh reiterated that Muslim leaders had insisted all along that no Muslim group could be responsible for bombings targeting the Muslim community.

"Yet they arrested the innocent Muslim youths," Shaikh told Khabar. "Now the NIA chargesheet virtually declares that those arrested and jailed youths were innocent.

"We are also happy that the real culprits in the case have been nailed finally."

(Courtesy: Khabar South Asia)

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