Akshardham attack: Gujarat ATS arrests accused

Mohammad Yasin Bhat, the alleged prime conspirator of the 2002 Akshardham Temple attack, was arrested by the Gujarat Anti-Terrorist Squad. (File Photo)

Gujarat Minister of State for Home (MoS) Pradipsinh Jadeja on Friday said that state Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) has arrested an absconding accused from Anantnag in Jammu & Kashmir who was wanted in the 2002 Akshardham terror attack case.

Incidentally, the previous six accused who were tried and convicted were acquitted by the Supreme Court on the ground that prosecution failed to prove their guilt.

After this judgement three more were acquitted on the basis of the apex court order.

The minister, while giving details of the operation in Gandhinagar, told reporters that the arrested accused Mohammed Mohammed Yasin Ghulam Bhatt is a resident of Anantnag and was working in a ware house there.

After his name was surfaced in the attack case, Bhatt is reported to have crossed over to Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir and kept hiding and later returned.

On September 24, 2002, two militants, allegedly with links to Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Toiba, had stormed Akshardham temple in the state capital Gandhinagar and killed 32 and left over 80 people injured. The two were shot dead by the security forces during the rescue operation.

Bhatt is alleged to have facilitated supply of weapons which were used in the attack. He allegedly created cavity in the car and hid the weapons including AK-47 which he loaded in Anantnagar and traveled till Bareily and handed over to co-accused Chand Khan alias Shank Khan who was acquitted by the Supreme Court after spending 11 years in jail. 

In 2014, the Supreme Court had acquitted six accused including Khan who were arrested on terror charges. The special POTA court had held them guilty and awarded capital punishment and other sentences which was confirmed by the Gujarat High Court. But the apex court had reversed the order on the ground that there was not enough evidence to prove their guilt. Following Supreme Court's order, three other co-accused, who were arrested later, were also exonerated.

In the past two years, Ahmedabad Detection of Crime Branch had arrested one Abdul Rashid Ajmeri and Mohammed Farooq Shaikh who were also absconding.

Sources said that despite the acquittals from the Supreme Court the arrested persons are facing full-fledged trial with sanctions from the state home department.

"Eventually, no evidence will stand since the apex court has already evaluated them and concluded that they are not reliable for prosecution," said a source. As on today, Ajmeri and Shaikh are facing those trials. According to sources, there are at least two dozen absconding accused against whom arrest warrants issued by the court are pending.

Jadeja, while giving details of the ATS operation said in a press release that, "Gujarat has been following zero-tolerance against terrorism. Government is alert to see no terror attack happens. It is the strong determination of the government that no cross-border infiltration is happening and that's why state has succeeded in ending terror attacks."

The release also stated that the then chief minister Narendra Modi, now the prime minister, also "did proper planning to curb terrorism."

The release stated that "to see that everyone involved in the case gets punished, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah have extended cooperation and this success is a result of it."

The release also states that Chief Minister Vijay Rupani is also monitoring these operations.

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