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Maharashtra ATS Arrests Bomb-Making Expert Who Trained Gauri Lankesh's Killers

Arrested in connection with the 2018 Nalasopara arms haul case, Pratap Hazra's involvement is suspected in many terror attacks and plans.

New Delhi: The Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) on Thursday arrested a 34-year-old West Bengal resident, who allegedly trained right-wing extremists in making explosives. Some of his trainees were earlier arrested by Karnataka police in the 2017 assassination of journalist Gauri Lankesh.

Arrested in connection with the 2018 Nalasopara arms haul case, Pratap Hazra has been on the run since the case was registered on August 10, 2018. He was arrested from South 24 Parganas’s Ushti.

Hazra was first arrested by the Kolkata Police on Monday and brought to a Mumbai court, which handed him over to the Maharashtra ATS on Thursday.

The ATS had arrested 12 persons, including Vaibhav Raut from Nalasopara, Sudhanva Gondhalekar from Pune and Sharad Kalaskar from Aurangabad in August 2018 in the arms haul case. Crude bombs, explosives, country-made pistols and choppers were recovered from Raut’s residence and warehouse in Nalasopara near Mumbai. Raut, according to the ATS, was a member of the Hindu Govansh Raksha Samiti.

ATS officials told the New Indian Express that all those who were arrested are linked directly or indirectly with right-wing extremist organisations Sanatan Sanstha and Hindu Janjagriti Sanstha. Hazra was one of those who allegedly trained them in making explosives.

Also Read: How Political Patronage Has Kept the Sanatan Sanstha Afloat in Goa

According to ATS, it found that the group was planning murders of a few intellectuals and attack on several places across the state, and essentially target individuals who would “speak, write, and perform against the Hindu dharma.” It had been on a look-out for Hazra since then.

It had named Hazra as associated with right-wing radical outfit Bhavani Sena, in a conspiracy to carry out a bomb attack at the 2017 Sunburn music festival in Pune. The right-wing extremist organisations had been carrying out a campaign against Sunburn as they thought such festivals promote “Western culture” and erode Hindu ethos.

The Karnataka police chargesheet 

The Karnataka police’s chargesheet also says that a suspect arrested in the Lankesh murder case named Hazra as an alleged bomb-making expert and guest trainer at a 2015 camp in Mangalore.

“The camps were conducted by persons linked to the Sanatan Sanstha, according to the SIT papers,” the Indian Express reported.

The SIT has further said that three arrested persons alleged to be part of Sanatan Sanstha and four witnesses in connection to the Lankesh case spoke about the presence of a “Babaji” and four “Gurujis” during the bomb-making training camp.

Hazra’s name cropped up when the witnesses and suspects named him as one of the trainers. They allegedly identified five “guest trainers”, one of whom was Hazra.

The SIT, while investigating the Lankesh murder case, found that the Sanstha and associated groups organised 19 bomb-making camps between 2011 and 2017, where they trained people to use firearms, make improvised explosive devices (IED) and subterfuge tactics.

Hazra’s connection to such camps also emerged from a statement given by the 26-year-old Sharad Kalaskar, one of the accused in the 2013 murder case of rationalist Narendra Dabholkar. Kalaskar, who is also an accused in Lankesh’s killing, said that Hazra was a guest trainer at a camp in the Dharamsthala area near Mangalore held in August, 2015. The camp, according to the police, was organised on a private farm.

Also Read: Same Group Behind Killings of Dabholkar, Kalburgi, Lankesh: Official

“The three-day camp involved training in “firing air pistols, making and exploding country bombs and pipe bombs’’, the Karnataka SIT said in its chargesheet.

It claims that six persons involved in Lankesh’s killing – Amol Kale as the chief planner, and Ganesh Miskin, Amit Baddi, Bharat Kurne, Sharad Kalaskar and Vasudev Suryavanshi as logistics providers and assistants – attended the camp.

It says similar camps were held in Jalna in 2011 and January 2015, Ahmedabad in November 2015 and Nasik in January 2016.

The chargesheet says that statements provided by suspects and witnesses in the Lankesh case claim that each trainer had his own expertise, from petrol bombs to pipe bombs with electrical circuits.

One of them “Bade Babaji” dressed like a monk. The 45-year-old “Bade Babaji” was arrested by the Gujarat ATS in Bharuch in November 2018. He was identified by the police as one Suresh Nair, a missing suspect in the 2007 Ajmer bomb blast.