Ahmedabad, Aug. 29: Police today claimed a breakthrough in investigations into the attack on the Akshardham temple last year with the arrest of five persons.
Thirty-two devotees were killed on September 24, 2002, when militants opened fire on the temple premises.
Ahmedabad police commissioner K.R. Kaushik said interrogation of the five, arrested from the sensitive Dariyapur and Shahpur areas, revealed that the attack was masterminded by the two militant groups, Jaish-e-Mohammad and Lashkar-e-Toiba, in collaboration with the ISI.
He said the operation was mounted “to avenge last year’s communal riots”. As the Akshardham incident took place some six months after the riots in Gujarat, triggered by the Godhra train massacre on February 27, it was presumed to be a retaliatory act.
There has not been official confirmation of this widespread belief, though. The admission by the police chief may not go down well with chief minister Narendra Modi or deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani, who only the other day in Mumbai sought to dismiss suggestions that the twin blasts there were a reprisal for the Gujarat riots.
Acknowledgement of domestic factors as triggering terrorist retaliation is prickly for the government because it becomes difficult to blame Pakistan for acts of violence.
Kaushik said the Akshardham conspiracy was hatched sometime during the post-Godhra riots in Riyadh, the Saudi capital — a claim that could have diplomatic implications.
Of the five arrested, Mufti Abdul Qayyum and Maulvi Abdullamiya were running a relief camp for riot victims in Dariyapur. Inamul Iraki, who was in charge of the Dariyakhan Ghummat relief camp, said about Mufti: “His arrest in connection with the Akshardham attack is beyond my comprehension.”
“I do not think a person who runs a hospital in the area and sets up a relief camp for riot victims would do such thing.”
The three others have been identified as Salim Shaikh, Adam Azmeri and Altaf Malek. The police said Shaikh, a tailor by profession, is based in Riyadh but visits Ahmedabad.
In their confession, the five accused have admitted to providing support to the two militants who were killed by commandos after a nightlong operation in the temple complex. The militants had been identified as Hafiz Mirza, from Lahore, and Mohammad Farooq, from Rawalpindi.
The police chief said the militants arrived in the city a week before the attack and put up in a house provided by Azmeri.
Mufti confessed that the two letters written in Urdu, recovered from the pockets of the two militants, were drafted by him, Kaushik added. Qayyum’s handwriting allegedly matches that of the letters.
The militants were taken to the temple twice for reconnaissance and the weapons were provided to them in Ahmedabad. They were also shown the Assembly and the secretariat.
“But they chose to target Akshardham because there security was not very tight and it had greater potential to hit headlines and terrorise more people,” Kaushik said.
The arrests came after the police acted on information some city youths, who were working in Saudi Arabia and were associated with militant groups, had come to Ahmedabad.
Kaushik could not explain why Shaikh, working in Riyadh, had returned.