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Three blast arrests and Kenya catch

Mumbai, July 21: Ten days after the Mumbai blasts, investigators made their first arrests ' two in Patna and one in Navi Mumbai ' while a fourth person, Abdul Karim alias Tunda, was reportedly picked up by police in Kenya.

Kamal Ahmed Ansari, 32, and Khalid Aziz Raunak Aziz Sheikh, 24, who were the first of the three arrests in India, are both residents of Madhubani district in Bihar. Investigators said the duo, held yesterday, led them to the third, Mumtaz Ahmed Maqbool Ahmed Choudhary, 38.

“Ansari is an LeT (Lashkar) operative. He and his associate Aziz Sheikh, who has attended camps in Bangladesh, have been in our custody since Thursday afternoon. They were brought here today, and it is they who led us to Maqbool ' a Bangladeshi national illegally living at Turbhe in Navi Mumbai,” an investigator with the anti-terrorist squad (ATS) said.

Ansari had been booked by Delhi police some years ago for possession of an AK-47, but was later released on bail.

Mumbai police seized 1.5 kg of a gunpowder-like substance from Ansari’s home and mobile phones from all three.

The police were excited about the reported catch in Mombasa, the Kenyan capital, of the man described as Tunda, who allegedly masterminded 33 bomb blasts in Delhi and adjoining areas between December 1996 and January 1998 in which 21 people were killed and 400 injured.

An agency report quoted a senior Kenyan police officer as saying: “We arrested him... in Mombasa. He is wanted for the bombings in Mumbai. He will be handed over because he is on the wanted list.”

The report said Tunda was in possession of several fake passports and resisted arrest.

An ATS official said: “We have evidence that he had a hand in the July 11 Mumbai blasts. The home ministry is working out the deportation modalities with the Kenyan authorities. He will be in Mumbai soon.”

Home ministry officials in Delhi did not share the confidence. They said they had sought confirmation by way of photograph and fingerprints from Kenya.

Allegedly a Lashkar operative, Tunda had been based in Bangladesh from where he co-ordinated attacks in India. There were reports about his death in a gang war in Dhaka in 2003, but he emerged after a year in Karachi.

ATS chief K.P. Raghuvanshi said investigations had confirmed the role of Nepal and Bangladesh-based Lashkar operatives who carried out the blasts with direct or “indirect” aid of Pakistan’s ISI.

Maharashtra home minister R.R. Patil went a step further. He told the Assembly: “Let me inform the House that our police will soon submit proof of the involvement of Pakistan-based terrorist organisations in the blasts.”

Raghuvanshi refused to say how the investigators reached the three people arrested. Sources said information about Ansari and Aziz Sheikh was provided to central intelligence agencies by two Pakistanis held in Nepal on July 14.

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