Hyderabad: A special NIA court in Hyderabad on Monday acquitted five accused in the Makkah Masjid bomb blast case, almost 11 years after an improvised explosive device ripped through a Friday congregation.
The attack on the Hyderabad mosque killed nine people and injured 58 others.
The accused acquitted by the court include Naba Kumar Sircar alias Swami Aseemanand, a former member of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sang (RSS) in Gujarat turned patron of a new right wing group, Abhinav Bharat, and other members of hardline Hindu groups.
Delivering the judgement in a packed courtroom the judge said the National Investigation Agency (NIA) had failed in proving the guilt of the accused.
“The judge observed that not a single allegation levelled by the prosecution could be proved and hence he declared all the accused acquitted,” said J.P. Sharma, the defence counsel.
A bomb had exploded in the crowded courtyard of the mosque on May 18, 2007 just as the Friday congregation was coming to an end.
Five more people later died when police opened fire on a group of Muslims protesting against the blast.
The NIA had originally filed a charge sheet against ten people, accusing them of plotting and executing the bomb blast with the intention of avenging extremist attacks elsewhere.
However one of the accused, Sunil Joshi, a member of RSS in Madhya Pradesh was killed by unknown assailants during the investigation.
Two other accused former — RSS preacher Sandeep V. Dange and Ramchandra Kalsangra from Madhya Pradesh — remain listed as absconders and are yet to be arrested.
Another two accused Tejram Parmar and Amith Chowhan are still under investigation.
The other accused acquitted on Monday included RSS leader Devender Gupta (Rajasthan), RSS activist Lokesh Sharma (Madhya Pradesh), Bharat Mohanlal, Rateshwar alias Bharat Bhai (Gujarat) and Rajendra Chowdhary (Madhya Pradesh).
Over the last 11 years the case saw many twists and turns starting with the initial investigation by the Special Investigation Team (SIT) of Hyderabad city police which, suspecting the involvement of Islamist groups, arrested 100 local youths.
Of these 26 were charged with conspiracy but a local court threw it out.
Subsequently the state government handed over the case to the Central Bureau of Investigation, which arrested Devender Gupta and Lokesh Sharma on June 17, 2010 for alleged involvement in the blast.
They were first arrested by the CBI in connection with the blast in Khaja Moinuddin Chisti’s Dargah in Ajmer, Rajasthan. The CBI claimed that during the questioning they had admitted their role in the Mecca Masjid blast.
During the subsequent probe Aseemananad and others were arrested.
In view of the interstate nature of the crime, the case was handed over to the National Investigation Agency on April 4, 2011.
After investigations and some more arrests the NIA filed the charge sheet against ten accused before the special court on February 13, 2014.
During the trial 226 witnesses were examined in the court and 411 documents were produced.
While the National Investigation Agency officials said that they will decide further course of action after getting the copy of the judgement and examining it.
Relatives of victims of the blast reacted to the acquittal with shock and disbelief.
“If these accused were innocent, then who killed those people”, asked Mohammad Shakeen, a kin of one of the victims of the blast.
Summing up the feelings, Hyderabad MP and MIM President Asaduddin Owaisi that the acquittal has weakened the fight against terrorism.
“Justice has not been done”, he said, “This was a completely biased investigation”.
He alleged that the NIA did not pursue the case as it was expected from the agency and it was not allowed by the political masters to discharge its duty.
“What will be left of the criminal justice system if such biased prosecutions continue”, he asked.
“NIA is deaf and blind parrot. Earlier they did not oppose the bail granted to the accused. During the trial majority of witnesses turned hostile after June 2014,” he added.
He also questioned the role of the investigating officer who he said was not able to give proper statement.