Mecca Masjid blast: Has Justice been served?

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All five accused, including Swami Aseemanand acquitted due to lack of evidence!

 

Eleven years after a powerful bomb blast inside the Mecca Masjid, Hyderabd that killed eight people, leaving 58 others injured, a special National Investigation Agency (NIA) court on Monday, acquitted all the five accused, including Swami Aseemanand, citing lack of evidence. The verdict pronounced by the Special NIA Judge K Ravindra Reddy at the Namapally Court, cleared that the prosecution failed to prove even a single allegation against all the accused in the case that highlights their involvement in the blast inside the Mecca Masjid on 18th May 2007.

Apart from Aseemanand, those acquitted are — Devendra Gupta, Lokesh Sharma, Bharat Mohanlal Rateshwar alias Bharat Bhai and Rajendra Chowdhary. There were around eight accused in the Mecca Majid blast that occurred on May 18, 2007. One accused, Sunil Joshi, an RSS spokesperson, was killed during the course of the investigation while two other accused, namely Sandeep V Dange and Ramchandra Kalsangra, both RSS activists, are still on the run. Swami Aseemanand, though acquitted by NIA in the 2007 Mecca Masjid blast case, now faces trial in the 2007 Samjhauta Express train blast. He has already been acquitted by a court in Jaipur in the Ajmer Dargah blast case of the same year.

However, what came as shock to many was the resignation of the NIA judge Ravindra Reddy who pronounced the verdict earlier on the day. Barely hours after pronouncing the judgement, the special judge for NIA cases tendered his resignation to Metropolitan Sessions Judge (MSJ), citing personal reasons. According to a senior judicial officer, Mr. Reddy, had apparently taken the decision to resign sometime back itself and his resignation has nothing to do with the verdict. Nevertheless, such bizarre turn of events always bring a series of controversies with it. Netizens around the globe and few journalists summarised this act to be a result of guilt and pressure where a judge is bound to release the accused when the agencies involved fail to provide or satisfy the court with enough concrete materials or proofs. Justice B. Chandra Kumar, former judge of the Hyderabad High Court also feels that the NIA judge Ravindra Reddy might have felt guilty about his verdict and shaken from within to continue further on this post.

 

So what is the Mecca Masjid blast case all about?

The Mecca Masjid, a 400 year old mosque located very close to Charminar, Hyderabad was ripped by a powerful remote control blast on May 18, 2007 when devotees had gathered for Friday prayers, killing Eight people and wounding 58. The blast took place near the Wuzukhana, a spot where Muslims perform ablutions before offering namaz. Sixteen people were reported dead in the immediate aftermath, of whom five were killed by the police firing after the incident while trying to quell the mob. Those injured, were treated at the Osmania hospital in Hyderabad. Two more live IEDs were found and defused by the police later that day that saved many more lives.

 

The Probe and the Accused:

The South Asia Terrorism Portal, the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses and the National Counterterrorism Center reported that Harkat-ul-Jihad al-Islami was actually behind the attacks based on initial investigations. It cited Vaqar Ahmed as a main suspect in the blast. At least 38 Muslim youths were detained by the local police on suspicion of being a part of the planning and execution of the blast. The case was handed over to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) on June 9 2007. Later on, the CBI probe established that members of a right-wing terror group called Abhinav Bhart, an extremist organisation involved in Malegaon and Ajmer blasts carried out the blast in Mecca Masjid. In May 2010, CBI also confirmed that the Mecca Masjid blasts and the blast that occurred in Ajmer Dargah in 2008 were linked as the modus operandi of both the cases appear to be similar. Swami Aseemanand, who is considered an ideologue of Abhinav Bharat was arrested from Haridwar in 2010 for his alleged role in the Mecca Masjid blast. A resident of Gujarat and head of the Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram, Swami Aseemanand alias Nabakumar Sirkar was formerly associated with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). The case was later handed over to the National Investigation Agency (NIA) on April 7 2011. The NIA began the probe in April 2011 after the initial investigations by the local police and the charge sheet filed by the CBI. As per the charge sheet, ten other members of the Abhinav Bharat- Devener Gupta, Lokesh Sharma, Lakshman Das Maharaj, Mohanlal Rateshwar and Rajender Chowdhary, were also identified as accused. On January 15, the confession of Swami Aseemanand was published by Tehelka and CNN-IBN implicating various members of the Abhinav Bharat in the Ajmer Sharif Dargah blast, 2006 Malegaon blasts, 2007 Samjhauta Express bombings, 2008 Malegoan & Modasa bombing. However, Aseemanand took a U-turn and blamed the ATs for torturing, both mentally and physically to make a confession.  He also said he was threatened and pressured to become a government witness in the case. In late 2011, Aseemanand wrote a petition to President of India Pratibha Patil describing torture allegedly meted out to him during his confinement, prompting the Punjab and Haryana high courts to issue a notice to the National Investigation Agency to investigate the allegations of torture claimed by Aseemanand.

Throughout the investigation, 226 witnesses were examined during the trial and about 411 documents exhibited. Swami Aseemanand and Bharat Mohanlal were granted bail later on while three others were kept under judicial remand. Finally, after eleven long years, all five accused in the case have been declared innocent/acquitted due to lack of substantial evidence.

Reaction has started pouring in from all political quarters post the big verdict.

In addition, security has been beefed up in Hyderabad and adjoining communal sensitive areas and police have sounded an alert to prevent any untoward incident. A close watch is being kept on movements of people at sensitive places especially near the historic mosque as part of necessary measures to maintain the law and order situation in the city.

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