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Encounter nips ‘terror plot’

Ahmedabad, June 23 (PTI): Gunmen belonging to the Chhota Shakeel gang who planned to disrupt the annual Jagannath rath yatra and kill two BJP leaders, including a state minister, were shot dead here today, police said.

Mumbai-based gangsters Ganesh Khunte and Mahendra Yadav were planning to disrupt the yatra and kill law minister Ashok Bhatt and former minister Bharat Barot, they said.

The incident has blown the lid off “yet another attempt by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence to carry out subversive activities in the state in connivance with India’s underworld”, the police added.

The gunmen were confronted by sleuths in Panchkuva in the walled city during a pre-dawn operation and died in the resultant cross-fire.

Joint commissioner of police (crime branch), P.P. Pande said: “The incident is a clear sign of the ISI’s nefarious design to destabilise the nation as they planned to assassinate Hindu leaders and instigate communal passion in the city.”

He added that the underworld was now using Hindu gangsters to target politicians from the majority community.

Pande said intelligence reports hinted that Shakeel was using a new strategy to target Hindu leaders to inflame communal feelings.

The joint commissioner said the police had no information about the gangsters’ local contact. Asked if a gangster identified as Nasir could be their contact, Pande said: “We don’t even know if his real name is Nasir or what he looks like. It could be an alias. It is still being investigated.”

Pande said that on the basis of intelligence reports, officials had been posted near the railway station. The policemen saw Khunte and Yadav arriving around 2.30 am and followed them for a while before asking them to surrender.

“However, they (the gangsters) fired at officials and, in response, the police fired almost 17 rounds, injuring them. They were rushed to the civil hospital where they died while undergoing treatment,” Pande said.

The joint commissioner said the police had received reports that another person was to join the duo a day before the rath yatra, when they were to survey the yatra route in detail.

Pande said two country-made revolvers, cartridges and a bag were recovered from the gangsters. The contents of the bag are being investigated.

Asked if Bhatt and Barot had been informed of the intelligence reports and given additional security, Pande said Bhatt, a Cabinet minister, had been given the necessary cover.

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