The Gujarat Anti-Terrorist Squad (ATS) on Wednesday arrested a key conspirator of the Sabarmati Express train-burning incident in Godhra on February 27, 2002.
The attack left 59 people, mostly kar sewaks returning from Ayodhya, dead, and triggered one of the worst communal riots in the country which claimed over 1,000 lives.
Farooq Mohammad Bhana, a key conspirator, is a former corporator of Godhra Municipality and is accused of carrying kerosene supplies to torch bogie S6 of the Sabarmati Express as it chugged out of the station on the fateful day.
He was picked up on Monday morning from a toll booth in Kaalol, around 25 km from Godhra in central Gujarat.
The 55-year-old also faces the charge of provoking a mob to attack and set the train on fire. Bhana, along with Bilal Haji, “instructed” the other accused to set the coach ablaze according to the instructions received from Maulana Umerji, who was arrested earlier, but was later released.
Bhana and Bilal, the owner of Aman Guest House, were found to be the main conspirators. Earlier reports stated that Bhana, Bilal, Samir Panwala, Salim Zarda and Salim Bana had met at Aman Guest House on February 26, 2002, and hatched the conspiracy.
It is widely believed that Bhana and Panwala left for Mumbai after the attack. Bhana had been on the run for the last 14 years. The police had also suspected that Bhana could have crossed over to Pakistan.
Officials said Bhana did not visit Godhra as he was aware of attempts to nab him, and as time went by, he is learnt to have begun visiting his family recently. He even began growing a beard to hide his identity.
Sources said ATS will hand over Bhana to the Special Investigation Team which has been probing the case, and they are likely to take him to the attack site for further probe.
So far, 94 people have been arrested and 31 were found guilty. Of these, 11 were awarded capital punishment and others sentenced to life imprisonment.