Oct. 28: Police today followed the Patna serial blast trail to the outskirts of Ranchi, saying the conspiracy was masterminded by an Indian Mujahideen (IM) operative and identified six suspects.
Bihar police named all six, saying two were in custody and four were absconding. Accounts by Jharkhand police and villagers near Ranchi suggested that at least three persons with these names were aged 14 or 15, which makes them juveniles.
Patna senior superintendent of police Manu Maharaj said the police had cracked the case following the arrest of Imtiyaz Ansari, who he said was 22, and a 25-year-old man, both residents of Sithio village on the outskirts of Ranchi. In Jharkhand, police and villagers put Imtiyaz’s age at 28 and that of the other suspect at 14.
Conflicting versions arose about the condition of the other suspect, whose belt blew up while he was allegedly wrapping it around his waist at the Patna railway station yesterday morning. Bihar SSP Maharaj said he was injured while Jharkhand DGP Rajeev Kumar said he was dead.
Confusion hit the death toll, too. Bihar police officially put the toll at five, which should have been four if the person injured in the station had died, unless a fresh death took place today. No one said on record that one of the injured had passed away today.
The plot, SSP Maharaj said, was chalked out a couple of days before Narendra Modi’s Hunkar Rally at Gandhi Maidan.
The officer identified the mastermind as IM operative Tahseen Akhtar. The IM was set up in 2003 to avenge the Gujarat riots of the previous year that occurred during Modi’s first term as chief minister of the western state.
SSP Maharaj said the Lotus brand of watches, which are made in Rajkot in Gujarat, were used as timers in the blasts in Patna. The same brand was used in the Bodhgaya serial explosions of July 7.
The officer said the plot was conceived jointly by Akhtar, a resident of Ujiyarpur in Bihar’s Samastipur district, 110km northeast of Patna, and Ansari, his nephew. Akhtar, who carries a reward of Rs 10 lakh on his head, is absconding. “Ansari was apprehended while trying to flee after the explosion at Patna Junction,” he said.
Maharaj said Ansari ran a grocery store in Ranchi. Ansari’s father, sources in Ranchi said, owns a ration store.
The SSP denied that the other person in custody (whose age and condition are in dispute) had been assigned the role of a human bomb.
Police sources in Jharkhand said Ansari was working with three boys from his village, Sithio, 20km from Ranchi.
The SSP said that during interrogation, Ansari had disclosed that the entire operation was carried out by three groups, each having two members. The first group was made up by Ansari and the other person in custody, the police said.
The second group comprised the two other boys from Sithio (going by the names provided by Bihar police and accounts of the villagers) and the third group consisted of Akhtar and a person named Haider.
All the members arrived at Patna from Ranchi in private buses, Maharaj said. “They left Ranchi on the night of October 26 and reached Patna by bus the next morning. Each group was assigned a specific task. They planted bombs at strategic locations a few hours before the rally was scheduled to start,” Maharaj said, quoting Ansari.
Ansari said the explosives were provided to the groups in Ranchi. “The motive behind the explosions was to create panic, which would lead to a stampede-like situation,” Maharaj said.
He did not rule out a link with the Muzaffarnagar riots. “We are probing this angle also. Preliminary investigation has suggested that the intention of the attackers was to disturb the rally,” he added.