In a major development, a court on Monday dropped charges framed against eight Muslim youths for their alleged role in the September 2006 Malegaon blast case due to lack of evidence. At least 37 people had died in the Malegaon blast.
Judge VV Patil gave this verdict in the Mumbai sessions court. In the last hearing, NIA took an u-turn opposing the discharge of the accused contradicting stance taken by it in the past.
All accused were granted bail by a trial court in November 2011 after the National Investigation Agency (NIA) gave no objection to their bail pleas. Of the nine accused, one Shabir Ahmed died in an accident in 2015.
The accused, including Salman Farsi, Noorulhuda Doha, Rais Ahmed, Mohammed Ali, Asif Khan, Javed Sheikh, Faroogue Ansari and Abrar Ahmed, were being investigated for four bomb explosions on September 8, 2006, that killed 37 people and injured more than 100. The explosions took place near Hamida Masjid in the Bade Kabarastan area of Malegaon.
The Anti-Terror Squad (ATS) in Maharashtra had arrested nine men, alleged to be the members of the banned Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) for the blasts.
While one of the accused died in an accident in 2015, six others were released in 2011 on bail. Two others have also been convicted in the 2006 Mumbai train blasts case.
Last week, the NIA told the court that it had found no evidence to link the nine Muslims to the blasts. The agency also did not object to the discharge applications filed by the arrested accused, saying evidence collected by it were “not in consonance” with those obtained earlier by the Maharashtra ATS and the CBI, which also investigated the case.
“It is submitted that evidence collected by NIA in further investigation is not in consonance with evidence collected by the Anti-Terrorism Squad and the CBI. The court may kindly pass appropriate orders in the matter,” the NIA said in its response to the discharge applications filed by the accused.
Case so far
The police claimed that the aim of the blast was to cause an outbreak of communal violence in the restive town which has been stigmatized as a place seething with Muslim anger and alienation.
The nine accused included six from Malegaon and three from Mumbai. Many of them were related to each other through marriage or had business relations. For the police the nine people were members of the banned Student Islamic Movement of India who had carried out the attacks with the help of unidentified Pakistanis.
The initial investigation was started by Malegaon police and a special team of officers constituted by IGP Nasik Range. The case was handed over to the Anti Terrorism Squad, Mumbai on 23 October 2006 which made all the arrests.
With local residents vouching for the innocence of those arrested and calling for a fair probe the Central Government decided to transfer the case to the CBI in December 2006. In 2008, another bomb ripped through Malegaon.
An investigation led by then ATS Chief Hemant Karkare found Hindu extremists to be behind the blast. In 2010 Swami Aseemanand, an alleged Hindu extremist, confessed that radical Hindu activists were behind the blasts.
The NIA was handed over the case in 2011 and its investigation nailed Hindu extremists who are suspected in the 2006 blast as well.