Ahmedabad, Sept. 28: In a revelation that rebuts the government line that the Swaminarayan temple attack was carried out by Pakistanis, a highly-placed source today said one of the two raiders was speaking Gujarati and appeared to be “local”.
“Even from their appearance, the militants did not seem to be Kashmiris or from across the border,” he said.
Director-general of police K. Chakravarthy, however, repeated the official claim that the militants were “rank strangers”. He said the taxi driver who had brought the duo to the temple complex, Raju Thakore, had identified their bodies.
The police are not questioning any more taxi drivers as the identity of the militants and the fact that they were not residents of Gujarat have been “conclusively established”, Chakravarthy added.
But top sources at Police Bhavan did not rule out the involvement of a local. “One of the two militants could be from here as there may have been enough provocation for local Muslim youths to avenge the aftermath of the Godhra killings,” a source said.
This is in line with claims made to the Anti-Terrorist Squad by the driver and the taxi owner, Mansukh Acharya, that one of the two passengers had asked for a bottle of water at Rajdhani Hotel near Gandhinagar in Gujarati.
A letter in Urdu found in the pocket of one of the slain militants had said the temple attack was aimed at avenging the riots.
But the BJP has been at pains to deny any link between the storming of the temple and the post-Godhra riots. Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani and chief minister Narendra Modi have pointed the finger at Pakistan, claiming that the militants came from across the border.
At a rally in Lucknow today, Advani said he suspected the hand of the Lashkar-e-Toiba, an outfit active in Kashmir. They had planned to capture the temple and take 500 people hostage to strike a big deal, he said.
In Patna, defence minister George Fernandes said: “We have not reached the conclusion that the terrorists were backed by Pakistan.”
Chakravarthy said the two militants were “rank strangers” and had only entered the state to execute their “mission”. He accepted, however, that they could not have carried out their mission without local help.
Additional director-general of police Maniram, who led a team that last night “reconstructed the terrorist attack”, said the militants appeared to have been familiar with the temple complex, whose labyrinthine corridors and pathways can puzzle any first-time visitor.
Contradicting the earlier version that the militants had failed to enter the three exhibition halls because people had locked the doors, Maniram said the duo had entered the halls but from the exit, not the ticket counter that served as the entrance.
Inside the exhibition halls, they killed some visitors before climbing on to the roof. Like Advani, Modi had said the duo had planned to take people hostage.
But what has baffled the investigating agency is that no hostages were taken. Neither did the duo appear to have attempted an escape. They also did not target the people after police reached the spot.
A senior officer has gone to the extent of saying the attackers did not appear to be by “dreaded” militants. “In fact,” he said, “they looked like novices”.