Hyderabad, Apr 16: A special court here on Monday acquitted right-wing ideologue and former RSS member Swami Aseemanand and four others in the 2007 Mecca Masjid blast case, ruling that the prosecution failed to prove charges against them.
The special court of the National Investigation Agency (NIA) found fault with the prosecution for not presenting satisfactory evidence. The NIA is likely to move the High Court, challenging the acquittal
On May 18, 2007, a powerful blast ripped through the historic Mecca Masjid during Friday prayers, killing nine people and injured 58 others. Five others were killed in the police firing during the violence that followed soon after the blast. A pipe-bomb triggered by a mobile phone timer went off near the ablution spot of the 17th-century mosque located close to the iconic Charminar.
After initial investigation by the local police, the case was transferred to the CBI which filed a chargesheet. The NIA took over the case from the CBI in 2011.
Eight people belonging to right-wing organisations, including Aseemanand, Devender Gupta, Lokesh Sharma, Bharatbhai and Rajender Chowdhary, were charged by the NIA in the blast case. The court, however, delivered its verdict with regard to the five accused. One accused, Sunil Joshi, was murdered in December, 2007, during the course of investigation while two others—Sandeep V Dange and Ramchandra Kalsangra from Madhya Pradesh—are still at large.
A total of 226 witnesses were examined during the trial and as many as 411 documents exhibited. Swami Aseemanand and Bharat Mohanlal Rateshwar are out on bail, while three others are in the Central Prison in Hyderabad.
In March last year, Aseemanand was also acquitted in the Ajmer blast. He is also on trial for the 2006 Malegaon blasts and the 2007 Samjhauta Express bombing.
The accused in the sensational Mecca Masjid blast case are allegedly linked to a fringe Hindu organisation called Abhinav Bharat.
Initially, the Hyderabad police who investigated the case suspected the involvement of Harkat-ul-Jihad-e-Islami (HuJI), a fundamentalist group supported by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). The police had picked up more than 90 Muslim youth 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 an encounter. After a trial, the Nampally criminal courts acquitted all the accused in January, 2009, for lack of evidence. Subsequently, the Central Government transferred the case to the CBI. Later, the case was handed over to the NIA in 2011.
Meanwhile, reacting to the court’s verdict, Hyderabad MP and president of Majlis Ittehadul Muslimeen (MIM) Asaduddin Owaisi said that the majority of witnesses in the case had turned hostile after June 2014. “The NIA did not pursue the case as it was expected from them. The NIA is guided by the political masters. It is a deaf and blind parrot. Our fight against terrorism is weakened after today’s acquittal,” he said.
In May, 2010, the CBI had said that the Mecca Masjid blast and the 2008 Ajmer Dargah blast were “linked, going by the nature of phone timer devices, explosives and the bomb used and common identity proof used to obtain SIM cards.”
On November 19, 2010, Swami Aseemanand, who had been on the run since 2008, was arrested from Haridwar for his alleged role in the blast. He had submitted a signed declaration that he, and several members of the Abhinav Bharat, had conspired and executed the bomb blast at Mecca Masjid.