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‘Plot-house’ minister pulls out

Srinagar/Ahmedabad, Sept. 11: The latest round of staggering revelations that have become the trademark of the Akshardham attack case has claimed a political casualty. A Jammu and Kashmir minister resigned today following a suspected militant’s claim that the conspiracy was hatched in his native house.

Agriculture minister and senior People’s Democratic Party leader Abdul Aziz Zargar put in his papers after Shan Milan alias Chand Khan told police that Lashkar-e-Toiba operatives had finalised the attack plan in the minister’s house at Manzgam in south Kashmir’s Anantnag.

Thirty-two devotees were killed on September 24, 2002, when militants opened fire inside the temple complex near Gandhinagar.

Zargar dismissed Chand Khan’s claim as part of a “sinister design” to malign him. He said he resigned without delay to save the Mufti Mohammad Sayeed government further embarrassment in its first scandal in office.

“Till my name is finally cleared, and I am sure it will be cleared, I may be kindly allowed to relinquish my ministerial responsibilities in the best tradition of public life,” Zargar said in a letter to the chief minister.

But the resignation has gifted a handle to the National Conference, which has been struggling to come to terms with its unfamiliar role in the Opposition. Party leader Omar Abdullah, who had been accusing the Mufti government of being soft on insurgents, said the “unholy nexus between the militants and the government is a dangerous new dimension”.

Zargar said he has “no knowledge of my native house at Manzgam having been used by Lashkar militants. I am innocent”.

The minister said he had migrated from his native village located in a forest immediately after militancy flared up in Kashmir.

“I am not aware who visited my native house and when. Even during electioneering, I never visited my native house. I was not living in the house for the last 13 years.”

The disclosure by Chand Khan, who was arrested last month, is the latest in a series of claims and counter-claims that have marked the case.

Less than two weeks ago, Gujarat police had said the plot was hatched in Riyadh and arrested five persons, including two clerics, charging them with providing support to the militants who carried out the attack.

The arrests also led the police to declare for the first time in public that the Akshardham attack was launched to “avenge” the post-Godhra riots.

Chand Khan’s revelation was made public by Jammu and Kashmir soon after, prompting the Gujarat investigators to claim that the suspected militant was trying to protect accomplices in Ahmedabad. Chand Khan is being brought to Ahmedabad on transit remand.

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