'Cow protector' in terror plot net
Mumbai: A man described as a "daring cow protector" and linked to several radical Hindu outfits has been arrested with two others for allegedly planning terror strikes in Mumbai and elsewhere in Maharashtra.
Real estate agent Vaibhav Raut, 40, was arrested after the Maharashtra anti-terrorism squad (ATS) raided his home and office in Nala Sopara, on Mumbai's outskirts, on Thursday night and seized bombs, wires and detonators, officers said.
They said Raut was a sympathiser of the Goa-headquartered Sanatan Sanstha, which is being investigated in connection with the murders of journalist Gauri Lankesh and rationalists M.M. Kalburgi, Narendra Dabholkar and Govind Pansare in Maharashtra and Karnataka.
Sources in the ATS said Raut's name had cropped up in a statement given by Amol Kale, one of the suspects in Gauri's murder.
They said Raut was planning terror strikes in Mumbai, Pune, Satara, Solapur and Nala Sopara - charges that revive memories of the 2006-08 blasts at Malegaon, Ajmer, Hyderabad and the Samjhauta Express that led to the coinage of the term "Hindu terror".
These blasts were attributed to the Pune-based Abhinav Bharat, some of whose members' possible links with the Sanatan Sanstha - accused also of bombings at theatres in Thane, Vashi and Panvel - are under investigation.
Raut has been a member of the Hindu Govansh Raksha Samiti and a local spokesperson for the Karnataka-headquartered Sri Rama Sene, associated mostly with attacks on pub-going women in Mangalore, officers said. A suspect in Gauri's murder, Parashuram Wagmare, has been alleged to be a Sene worker.
Pramod Bapat, RSS prachar pramukh in Konkan, on Friday denied any association with the organisations Raut has been linked to, or with any terror outfits.
"The Sangh has got no links with any such organisation operating in Maharashtra," Bapat told The Telegraph.
Sunil Ghanvat, state organiser of the Hindu Janajagruti Samiti, set up by the Sanstha in 2002 to establish a "Hindu nation", described Raut as a "daring cow protector" but denied he was a member of the Samiti or Sanstha.
However, Sanjeev Pulanekar, a lawyer who represents the Sanatan Sanstha, defended Raut in court during Friday's remand hearing.
An ATS officer said: "We got information on August 7 that some people were conspiring to carry out terrorist attacks in places like Mumbai, Pune, Nala Sopara and Satara."
Sources said the seizures from Raut's home and office included 20 crude bombs, 26 detonators, 150 grams of a white powder, gelatin sticks, safety fuse wires, bottles labelled "poison", 10 batteries, six transistors, welding and cutting tools, switches, electronic equipment, gloves and adhesives.
Further raids in others parts of Nala Sopara and Pune led to the arrests of Sharad Kalaskar and Sudhanva Ghondelkar. All three have been remanded in police custody till August 18.
"They will be grilled to find out the source of the explosives and how exactly they were planning to carry out the attacks," an officer said.
The ATS is looking for two more suspects, with raids being carried out in Pune, Aurangabad and some other places.
Pulanekar, Raut's lawyer, alleged the ATS had "planted the evidence" at his client's home. "He was a Hindutva activist and had attended our Hindu adhiveshan (session) at Goa (an annual Sanstha event)," Pulanekar said.
"He was involved in campaigns against cow slaughter, love jihad and the use of illegal loudspeakers in mosques."
The lawyer claimed Raut earlier lived in Palghar in Konkan but was hounded out by the police.
He said: "They (the ATS) say the FIR was registered at 2.30am today (Friday), the accused was arrested at 3.30am, and the raid was conducted last night around 8pm. So, how can they raid without an FIR or search warrant?"
Calls to ATS officers to verify the claim went unanswered.#PTI quoted ATS chief Atulchandra Kulkarni as saying: "We will question them regarding all detected and undetected cases, including (the) Dabholkar, Pansare and Gauri Lankesh (murder) cases."