Fourteen years after a frenzied mob torched a coach of Sabarmati Express train at Godhra station, killing 59 kar sevaks, the Gujarat Anti-Terrorist Squad (ATS) on Wednesday arrested Farooq Mohammad Bhana, a key accused in the carnage that sparked riots in the state.
Based on a specific tip-off, an ATS team nabbed Bhana at a toll plaza near Kalol town of Panchmahal district when he was coming to Godhra from Mumbai to meet his son, Inspector General (IG) of ATS J.K. Bhatt told a press conference here.
According to Bhatt, 55-year-old Bhana was one of the key accused who allegedly hatched the conspiracy to burn the S6 coach of the train at Godhra Railway Station on February 27, 2002.
Primary investigation has revealed that Bhana went to Pakistan, probably using a fake passport, after the incident and then came back to India ten years ago and started living in Andheri(East) suburb of Mumbai.
"Bhana was on the run since 2002. He was a corporator of Polan-Bazar area of Godhra when the incident took place. It is alleged that on the night of February 26, Bhana and others held a meeting at Aman Guest house near the railway station as part of their conspiracy to set ablaze the S6 coach of the train," said Bhatt.
During the meeting, Bhana communicated a specific instruction of Maulana Husain Umerji to set ablaze the S6 coach, for which, other co-accused collected 140 litres of petrol from a nearby petrol pump and stored it inside the guest house, said Bhatt.
Maulana Umerji, who was arrested as the alleged mastermind behind the incident, was later released, as no concrete evidence was found against him during the trial.
"Those who attended the meeting include one Salim Panwala, who used to do black marketing in railway tickets, guest house owner Abdul Razak and another corporator Bilal Haji among others. As decided in the meeting, the coach was set ablaze by a mob of around 1,000 at platform no.1 at around 7:45 AM," said Bhatt.
Fifty-nine kar sevaks, who were returning from Ayodhya, had lost their lives when the S-6 coach of Sabarmati Express was set ablaze at Godhra Railway Station, which triggered large scale riots in the state in which around 1,000 people, mostly of minority community, were killed.
Bhana came on ATS radar two months back after he made some visits to Godhra, as he never came back to his hometown after the incident and remained underground all these years.
"Bhana was living in a slum area of Andheri-East in Mumbai since last ten years. Before that, he has joined Tabligi Jamat and travelled from one place to another in religious congregations, mainly to hide his identity and evade arrest. We also learned that he went to Pakistan during this period," said Bhatt.
According to Bhatt, Bhana changed his name to 'Shaikh Umar' and started working as property broker in Mumbai. He even took small contracts of civic body. To hide his identity, he even grew a beard after the incident.
"We have been keeping a close watch on his movement since last two months, as we learned that he has started visiting Godhra. He might have thought it would be safe to come back as 16 years have passed, otherwise, he never came to Gujarat during this period," said Bhatt.
After questioning, Bhana will be handed over to Supreme Court-appointed Special Investigation Team (SIT) for further action, added Bhatt.
During these 16 years, as many as 94 people have been arrested in the case. About 31 were convicted by a special court. Out of them, 11 were sentenced to death while 20 were given life term. The case is at present pending for judgment in the Gujarat High Court.
"Before Bhana's arrest today, we arrested three to four accused last year. Now, around seven are still absconding. Out of them, three are unidentified, as we don't know their exact names, while names and details of 4 are available with us," said Bhatt.