Nearly 11 years after a bomb blast killed nine worshippers at the historic Mecca Masjid here, a special NIA court on Monday acquitted all five Hindu activist accused, inviting strong criticism from Hyderabad MP Asaduddin Owaisi.
The National Investigation Agency court held that none of the charges framed against the accused, including Swamy Aseemanand, had been proved, a lawyer for one of the accused told reporters outside the Nampally criminal court complex.
Righwing Hindu activists Nabakumar Sarkar alias Swamy Aseemanand, Devender Gupta, Lokesh Sharma, Bharat Mohanlal Rateshwar alias Bharat Bhai and Rajender Chowdhary, against whom the charges were framed, were all acquitted.
Swamy Aseemanand, a resident of Gujarat and head of Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram, was earlier acquitted in the Ajmer Dargah blast case and is currently on bail in Samjhauta Express blast case of 2014.
Devendra Gupta is the RSS parcharak from Bihar while Lokesh Sharma is a RSS activist from Madhya Pradesh.
The powerful explosion had killed nine people and injured more than 50 during the Friday prayers at the 17th century mosque near the iconic Charminar on May 18, 2007.
Two live IEDs were also recovered by police and defused. Later, five more people were killed in subsequent police firing on the crowd outside the mosque.
There were a total of 10 accused in the case and five of them were chargesheeted by the NIA. One, Sunil Joshi, a RSS pracharak, was murdered during the course of investigation. Three accused, Sandeep V Dange and Ramchandra Kalsangra, both RSS activists, and Amit Chowhan, are absconding while Tejram Parmar is on bail.
A total of three chargesheets were filed by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and the NIA in the sensational case. Over 200 witnesses were examined and 400 documents were submitted to the court.
The city police, which initially took up investigations, blamed Bangaldeshi terror outfit Harkatul Jihad Islami Aand rounded up about 100 Muslim youth. All those arrested and jailed were acquitted in 2008 and the subsequent investigations by the CBI in 2010 revealed that the blast was the handiwork of Hindu rightwing group Abhinav Bharat. The case was handed over to NIA on April 4, 2011.
According to the chargesheet, the accused were "angered by terrorist attacks committed on Hindus and their temples" and conspired to "avenge" such acts with attacks on Muslim places of worship and places densely populated by Muslims.
The chargesheet also mentioned that Aseemanand made a confessional statement before a metropolitan magistrate in Delhi. He had allegedly disclosed the conspiracy behind the bomb blasts in different places, including Mecca. Aseemanand allegedly retracted the statement later.
Aseemanand was first arrested by CBI in 2010 but was granted conditional bail in 2017 in the case.
Police sounded an alert in Hyderabad following the court verdict. No untoward incident was reported till evening.
Reacting to the acquittal, Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen chief Asaduddin Owaisi said justice had not been done and that the ruling will weaken the fight against terrorism. He said it was a biased investigation and NIA was not allowed to pursue the case by its political masters.
In a series of tweets, Owaisi said the NIA and Modi-led government did not even appeal against the bail given to the accused within 90 days.
"Witnesses turned hostile after June 2014. They could not give proper statements, so everything was done to fail the victims," he said.
Defence lawyer and BJP's member of Telangana legislative council N. Ramchandra Rao hailed the judgement. He said there was no evidence against the accused and alleged that the then UPA government had implicated them in a false case to malign the Sangh Parivar.
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