SOURCE: Hindustan Times

A special court of the National Investigation Agency (NIA) on Monday acquitted five men, including Swami Aseemanand, accused of being involved in the Mecca Masjid blast in Hyderabad in 2007 that killed nine people citing lack of evidence.

Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) worker from Rajasthan Devendra Gupta, Madhya Pradesh property dealer Lokesh Sharma, an employee of a private company in Gujarat Bharat Mohanlal Rateshwar and farmer Rajender Chowdhary were also among the acquitted. Chowdhary is also from Madhya Pradesh.

All the five men were present in the court on Monday.

“We will examine the court judgment after we get a copy of the same and decide further course of action,” an NIA official was quoted as saying by news agency ANI.

The country’s top anti-terror body can file an appeal against the acquittal of the accused before the high court. The family members of the victims can also approach the high court appealing against their acquittal.

Meanwhile, police sounded an alert in Hyderabad following the judgement and beefed up security in the communally sensitive old city. More than 3,000 policemen and personnel of paramilitary forces were deployed.

Deputy Commissioner of Police V Satyanarayana said police would keep a close watch on the movement of people at sensitive places through CCTV cameras. He said the police would deal firmly with any attempt to disturb law and order.

Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen president Asaduddin Owaisi said justice has not been done and that it was a “malicious and biased” prosecution done by NIA.

“NIA did not deliberately pursue the case. When the accused got the bail, NIA did not appeal seeking cancellation of bail within the mandatory period of 90 days. This itself shows the prosecution was so biased,” the member of Parliament from Hyderabad said.

“I blame it entirely on the Narendra Modi government and NIA for failing to bring the accused to book and let the criminal off. It is a failure of the Modi government,” he said.

Police have sounded the alert and over 3,000 security personnel were deployed near the Mecca Masjid in Hyderabad after the verdict was announced. Deputy commissioner of police, V Satyanarayana, said the police had taken all necessary measures to prevent any untoward incident.

The Mecca Masjid blast adjacent to the historic Charminar on May 18, 2007, during Friday prayers, also injured 58 others. Five more were killed in police firing in violence that followed the blast.

The Hyderabad Police handled the probe initially and suspected Harkat-ul-Jihad-e-Islami (HuJI), a Pakistan-based terrorist group, to be behind the Mecca Masjid blast. More than 90 men – unofficial figures put it at more than 200 – were picked up for interrogation and 21 of them were charge-sheeted.

The police blamed Bilal, linked to HuJI, as the mastermind behind the terror attack. He was later killed in a shoot-out. After a prolonged trial, the Nampally criminal court acquitted all the accused on January 1, 2009, for lack of evidence.

The Central Bureau of Investigation, which took over the case, and NIA charged 10 people after interrogating 226 witnesses. NIA filed three chargesheets in the Mecca Masjid blast case and slapped various provisions of the Indian Penal Code, explosives act and Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act on the accused.

The accused are related to radical Hindu organisation Abhinav Bharat, whose members allegedly have ties to RSS.

CBI filed a charge sheet against Gupta and Sharma, who were part of the group led by former RSS pracharak Sunil Joshi. NIA took over from CBI in 2011 and all the cases involving the alleged right-wing workers were handed over to the agency, which filed a supplementary chargesheet against Aseemanand in the case.

Ten people — Gupta, Sharma, Joshi, Aseemanand, Rateshwar, Chowdhary, former RSS pracharak Sandeep Dange, an electrician and RSS activist Ramachandra Kalsangra, Tejram Parmar and Amit Chouhan — were named as accused in the Mecca Masjid blast case. Dange, Kalsangra, Parmar and Chowhan all belong to Madhya Pradesh.

Only five of them — Gupta, Sharma, Aseemanand, Rateshwar and Chowdhary — were arrested and faced trial in the case. A court in Rajasthan sentenced Gupta and another convict to life in jail in March 2017 in the Ajmer Dargah blast case.

Two other accused — Dange and Kalsangra — are absconding and Joshi was shot dead by three unidentified gunmen on December 29, 2007, near his house in Madhya Pradesh’s Dewas in during the course of the investigation in Mecca Masjid blast case.

The investigation against Parmar and Chouhan is still continuing.

Aseemanand and Rateshwar were already out on bail and three other accused are in Hyderabad’s central prison under judicial remand.