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Plea for PM protection ends in Godhra net

Ahmedabad, Feb. 6: The only Muslim leader who made a representation before the Prime Minister during his Godhra visit last April, demanding protection for “minorities”, was arrested today on charges of planning the train carnage that sparked the Gujarat riots.

Maulana Hussain Umarji, a 56-year-old timber merchant, was picked up at 3.30 am at Signal Falia following the confessional statement of another accused before the chief judicial magistrate of Godhra.

With the arrest, police claim to have “identified” the main conspirator but the case, they admit, is yet to be solved. “We have nabbed the main conspirator but are yet to find out who was behind the maulana,” additional director-general (CID, crime and railways) A.K. Bhargav said.

Bhargav said the initial plan was to burn the Sabarmati Express on February 22, the day the kar sevaks had left for Ayodhya, but it could not be executed because of heavy police presence. So it was postponed to February 27. Fifty-nine people died after coach S-6 of the train was torched near Godhra station.

The arrest led to an undercurrent of tension in Godhra town, where Muslims called a bandh to protest against the arrest of their “respected religious leader”.

Narsimha Komar, police chief of Panchmahal district, where Godhra is situated, had to deploy additional forces to prevent another flare-up.

The bandh passed peacefully. All shops and business establishments remained closed and parents did not send their children to school.

Zabir bin Yamin Behra, whose confession led to the maulana’s arrest, said Umarji had called him and 11 others on the night of February 26 and told them that kar sevaks were returning from Ayodhya the next day and an attack had been planned. In his statement, Behra, who was arrested on January 22, revealed they were promised Rs 1,500 each for taking part in the attack and were also directed to swear by the Quran to commit themselves to carrying out the assault.

Behra said in the intervening night of February 26 and 27, seven cans, each containing 20 litres of petrol, were shifted to Room No. 8 of Amam guesthouse of Razzak Kurkur, another accused already under arrest. The guesthouse is near Godhra station. The consignment was later shifted in an autorickshaw to the carnage site.

In his statement, Behra also said Salim Panwala and Kurkur had entered Coach S-6 after cutting through the vestibules. The others allegedly attacked the passengers from outside.

Muslims of Godhra town have dismissed Behra’s confession as “humbug” and maintain that the police forced him to make such a statement. The DGP, however, claimed that Behra made the statement voluntarily and not under duress. “If we had to use force, we would not have waited for long,” he said.

Despite the arrest and the confession, the Panchmahal district police chief said “the mystery has not been solved as yet. Some more people will have to be arrested and interrogated”.

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