| One of the arrested (with head covered) is led away by police in Mumbai on Monday. (Reuters)
Mumbai, Sept. 1: After a week of investigation into the blasts of August 25, Mumbai police today claimed to have cracked the case.
Four persons, two of them women, were arrested by the police and booked under the Prevention of Terrorism Act for being “directly involved” in the twin blasts last week that killed 52 and injured over 150.
The accused have been remanded in police custody till September 15. Police sources said this is the first time the anti-terror law is being applied against a woman. One of the two women arrested is an 18-year-old called Farheen Syed.
Deputy chief minister Chhagan Bhujbal said the blasts were planned in Dubai and executed by members of the Gujarat Revenge Force that was cobbled together after the riots last year.
Bhujbal, who has all along been saying that the blasts were linked to the riots, appeared to bask in his sense of vindication, especially after deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani’s rebuff. On his visit to Mumbai after the blasts, Advani had said it was “sad” that terrorist activities were being linked to Gujarat.
The other three arrested have been identified as Arshad Shafi Ahmed Ansari, 26, Fehmida Syed, 37, and Syed Mohammed Hanif Abdul Rahim, 45.
The police revealed that three of the four belonged to the same family, but did not say which three. All were described as residents of Mumbai, picked up from the suburb of Goregaon.
They said they were looking for the prime suspect in the twin blasts — Naseer — a name that has emerged during interrogation of a number of people picked up since the incident.
Another name has cropped up: Hanif. “This seems to be a separate module from the ones involved in some of the earlier blasts that shook Mumbai,” Bhujbal said.
“The Hanif group, based in Dubai, seems to have hatched the conspiracy and used the four persons we have arrested.”
A cache of materials for bomb making — 205 gelatine sticks, 20 detonators, 12 alarm clocks with timer, electric wire, soldering machine and a clipper machine — was recovered from the accused, according to the police.
Fortifying the Gujarat angle, police officers revealed that Hanif had spent a length of time in Surat. Trained by the Lashkar-e-Toiba, Hanif is believed to have come from Dubai to Mumbai in September last year to organise “men and material”.
Said to be involved in a wider network of terrorism, Hanif is alleged to be responsible for some of the earlier blasts in Mumbai, though it was always the Students’ Islamic Movement of India (Simi) that had been blamed for it.
Many Simi activists are facing charges under the anti-terror law for having had a hand in the five blasts that preceded the August 25 explosions.
“Simi’s involvement has not been found in the recent blasts,” police chief R.S. Sharma said.
The statement goes against the suspicion voiced by central agencies, including Advani himself, about the hands of Simi and Lashkar-e-Toiba.
Strangely, though the accused have been arrested in connection with the twin blasts, they have been booked for the Ghatkopar explosion of July 28. Two persons had died in that blast in a bus.
Separate charges will be slapped against the accused as investigation proceeds, Sharma said, adding that the quartet appears to have been the ones directly responsible for planting the bomb in the taxi that blew up at the Gateway of India.
The arrests were made after the lead provided by Shiv Narayan Pandey, the driver who drove a family of four for two days in and around Mumbai on August 24 and 25. Pandey told the police that the family had asked him to take a break and come back after some time as they wanted to stroll around the Gateway.
Moments after Pandey walked away from the taxi, the vehicle exploded and killed 12 persons on the spot. Many were flung into the Arabian Sea under the impact. The police later said the explosives, placed in the boot of the car by one of the four, were RDX.
“We think that the RDX, used for the first time since the serial blasts of 1993, may have been smuggled in through Nepal and the jungles of Bihar but then it could also be the leftover consignment that came 10 years ago,” an officer said.
Although the arrests were made public today, the accused had been detained yesterday. Unwilling to spill the details of the breakthrough, Bhujbal had then said that it was part of investigations and that there were many others who had also been picked up from Pune and Aurangabad.