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Police say Farooq Mohammad Bhana was on the run since 2002. Photo: AFP
Police say Farooq Mohammad Bhana was on the run since 2002. Photo: AFP

Key accused in Godhra train burning held after 14 years: Gujarat ATS

The Gujarat anti-terrorism squad says key accused Farooq Mohammad Bhana will be handed over to the apex court-appointed special investigation team

Ahmedabad: Fourteen years after a mob torched a coach of Sabarmati Express at Godhra railway station, killing 59 people, the Gujarat anti-terrorist squad (ATS) on Wednesday arrested Farooq Mohammad Bhana, a key accused in the incident that sparked riots in the state.

Based on a tip-off, an ATS team nabbed Bhana at a toll plaza near Kalol town of Panchmahal district when he was coming to Godhra from Mumbai to meet his son, inspector general (IG) of ATS J.K. Bhatt told reporters.

According to Bhatt, 55-year-old Bhana was one of the key accused who allegedly hatched the conspiracy to burn the S6 coach of the train at Godhra railway station on 27 February 2002.

Primary investigation has revealed that Bhana went to Pakistan, probably using a fake passport, after the incident and then came back to India 10 years ago and started living in Andheri (East) suburb of Mumbai.

“Bhana was on the run since 2002. He was a corporator of Polan-Bazar area of Godhra when the incident took place. It is alleged that on the night of 26 February, Bhana and others held a meeting at Aman guest house near the railway station as part of their conspiracy to set ablaze the S6 coach of the train," said Bhatt.

During the meeting, Bhana communicated a specific instruction of Maulana Husain Umerji to set ablaze the S6 coach, for which other co-accused collected 140 litres of petrol from a nearby petrol pump and stored it inside the guest house, said Bhatt.

Maulana Umerji, who was arrested as the alleged mastermind behind the incident, was later released, as no concrete evidence was found against him during the trial.

“Those who attended the meeting include Salim Panwala, who used to do black marketing in railway tickets, guest house owner Abdul Razak and another corporator Bilal Haji, among others. As decided in the meeting, the coach was set ablaze by a mob of around 1,000 at platform No.1 at around 7:45am," said Bhatt.

Bhana came on the ATS radar two months ago after he made some visits to Godhra, as he never came back to his home town after the incident and remained underground all these years.

“Bhana was living in a slum of Andheri East in Mumbai for the past 10 years. Before that, he joined Tabligi Jamat and travelled from one place to another in religious congregations, mainly to hide his identity and evade arrest. We also learned that he went to Pakistan during this period," said Bhatt.

According to Bhatt, Bhana changed his name to Shaikh Umar and started working as a property broker in Mumbai. He even took small contracts of the civic body. To hide his identity, he even grew a beard after the incident.

“We have been keeping a close watch on his movement for the past two months, as we learned that he has started visiting Godhra. He might have thought it would be safe to come back as 16 years have passed; otherwise, he never came to Gujarat during this period," said Bhatt.

After questioning, Bhana will be handed over to the Supreme Court-appointed special investigation team for further action, added Bhatt.

During these 16 years, as many as 94 people have been arrested in the case. About 31 were convicted by a special court. Out of them, 11 were sentenced to death while 20 were given life term.

The case is at present pending for judgement in the Gujarat high court. “Before Bhana’s arrest today, we arrested three to four accused last year. Now, around seven are still absconding. Out of them, three are unidentified, as we don’t know their exact names, while names and details of 4 are available with us," said Bhatt.

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