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Terror law caps Godhra case

Ahmedabad, Feb. 19: Eight days before the first anniversary of the Godhra carnage, the Gujarat government has invoked the Prevention of Terrorism Act — the country’s most stringent anti-terror law — against all the 123 accused.

In a sudden twist to the yearlong investigations, top police officials today said they have finally “pieced the Godhra jigsaw together” and that it has thrown up Maulana Hussain Umarji as the conspirator-in-chief.

The 56-year-old timber merchant was picked up last fortnight following the confessions of another accused, Zabir Binyamin Behra.

Investigating agencies said they are on their way to “nailing” the guilty. Of the 123 accused, 65 are in judicial custody, seven are out on bail and 51, including Salim Panwala, the person alleged to have started the whole thing, are absconding. Eight of those who had earlier been arrested in connection with the attack on the Sabarmati Express have been released for lack of evidence.

Confident that the noose around the accused has been tightened, additional director-general of police A.K. Bhargava said the anti-terror Act was invoked only after the police got “concrete and sustainable” evidence against the accused.

“We wanted to apply Pota much earlier but couldn’t do so because of the loose ends in our investigation,” Bhargava said, adding that the police have now plugged all the loopholes and pieced together parts of the conspiracy.

“We decided to book all the accused under the Act, including the seven who are out on bail, after ensuring that our case would be watertight,” he said.

Top police officials investigating the case revealed that the “main peg” of the conspiracy was Umarji, who was picked up from his Godhra residence.

Muslims in Godhra had called a bandh protesting against what they termed an “injustice meted out to a respected religious leader”.

Umarji, now in judicial custody, had taken charge of relief camps opened for riot victims. Though a plan to take him to Mumbai for investigating his links with the underworld fell through, police officials maintain they have enough in their hands to nail him as the brain behind the Godhra attack.

Investigating authorities say they have “unimpeachable evidence” to show that Umarji’s activities were being funded by certain quarters in Pakistan, Dubai, the UK, Canada and South Africa.

“He had received crores of rupees for the construction of mosques and madarsas, along with a huge amount that came in last year for helping the victims of the riots,” Bhargava said. He added that the police now have evidence to prove that a substantial part of the money that was received had been disbursed to many of the Godhra accused, who used it for carrying out the carnage.

During investigations, Umarji reportedly said he received money from “foreign sources for welfare activities”.

Backing up the police claim, state home minister Amit Shah said the decision to invoke the terror law was taken after Behra confessed in court that the conspiracy was hatched three or four days before the carnage.

As the government went into overdrive, congratulatory messages started pouring in for its “success”. Ramchandra Paramhans, president of the Ramjanmabhoomi trust, told reporters it was a “good and commendable” development.

However, Yusuf Charkha, defence counsel for the Godhra accused, said the police action was “politically motivated” with the aim of maligning the entire community.

Maintaining that the exhibition of the evidence was an eyewash, Charkha said what was being shown as evidence was “laughable” and would not stand in a court of law. “The same court has already exonerated eight persons in this case and others, too, will be let out,” he added.

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