As the NIA takes over the probe into the February 2007 blast on the Samjhauta Express, Vicky Nanjappa reports on the long and winding road the investigation has taken so far
When the National Investigating Agency was handed over the probe into the Samjhauta Express blasts of 2007, in which 68 people (mostly Pakistani civilians) lost their lives, it became clear that the Haryana police, which was seized of the matter, had failed to make any progress in the case.
The NIA has its task cut out as it sets out to probe this crucial case, which has two angles. One is the role of the Lashkar e Tayiba behind the blast, and another is the role of Hindu extremists. An officer in the NIA told rediff.com that they will be looking into both angles, "but it was too early to make any comment regarding who actually was behind the terror attack."
After the blast on February 18, 2007, aboard the Samjhauta Express, a twice-weekly peace train between India and Pakistan, near Panipat in Haryana, the immediate response from India was that this was the handiwork of the Lashkar-e-Tayiba which was not in favour of peace between the two countries. At that point of time, it was also said that since RDX was used in the blast, the attack must have been masterminded from across the border, since it is impossible to access RDX in India.
The Haryana police constituted a Special Investigating Team which acted upon the inputs from various intelligence agencies, which pointed the finger of suspicion at the Lashkar.
However, despite several attempts, no headway was made in the case. The first major breakthrough the Haryana police made was when they tracked down the place from where the suitcase carrying the bomb was purchased, to Kothari market in Indore.
The Haryana police decided to take the case further, but for some reason the probe never progressed. The allegation was that there was pressure from certain quarters not to probe further in the direction they were going.
Everything was hush-hush until the probe into the Malegaon blast commenced. This was for the first time that the Maharashtra Anti Terrorism Squad under Hemant Karkare came out with the revelation that the same group which carried out this attack also spearheaded the Samjhauta blast.
This first came to light when the ATS made a remand application for Malegaon blast accused, Col Shrikant Purohit, in which they stated that they needed an extension of remand since they wanted to probe his role in the Samjhauta blast as well.
However, various rounds of interrogation of Purohit did not reveal many details regarding his alleged involvement in the Samjhauta blast, which was when the agency turned to Dayanand Pandey, a god-man alleged to be involved in the Malegaon blast.
Although the narco-analysis on him had no evidentiary value, Pandey claimed during the test in Bengaluru that the same group was behind the Samjhauta blast. He also said Purohit was in the know of this operation. However, the ATS could not get anything out of Purohit when they conducted a narco test on him.
The ATS also found that Purohit had supplied the RDX to a person by the name of Bhagwan. Police sources said Bhagwan could be a god-man based in Indore from where the RDX was transported to be used in the Samjhauta blast.
Investigations also showed that Purohit had managed to procure the RDX from an army camp in Jammu and Kashmir where it was part of seized material, but instead of declaring it Purohit decided to use it, investigations revealed.
However, the chargesheet filed against Purohit and the rest of his group did not make any mention of the Samjhauta blast case.
Sources in the Haryana police, which made the first breakthrough when tracking the Samjhauta case to Indore, told rediff.com on condition of anonymity that their probe ended right when they managed their first lead.
"We had been told to go slow many times, which was demoralising since we could have nailed the case. The Haryana police was fed up by the constant interference and pressure, and had even written a letter to the Union home ministry in 2007 to hand over the case to the Central Bureau of Investigation. However, this was not considered," the source added.
The NIA, when it begins its probe, will not rule out a Lashkar link to this operation, as of yet. They would study the Lashkar modules and also see if the local modules could have played any role in the Samjhauta blast.
The case is open as of now, sources say. In the meantime, they would also go after Pandey's revelations and also the leads that the Haryana police have managed to get so far.
Two men, Dange and Ramji, who could have transported the material, are on their radar. There would also be further probing into the roles of Purohit and Sadhvi Pragya, another accused. However, the NIA would like to wrap up the investigation as soon as possible, a source in the agency said.