Accused in Gauri Lankesh Murder Used Fake Names, Multiple Phones to Hide Identity

Four men arrested in the case earlier this week were associated with the right-wing extremist group Sanatan Sanstha and its affiliate Hindu Janajagruti Samiti.

New Delhi: The four men who were arrested earlier this week for the murder of journalist Gauri Lankesh, and for plotting to kill Kannada writer K.S. Bhagwan, had reportedly gone to great lengths to hide their identity.

According to the Indian Express, the men, associated with the right-wing extremist Hindutva group Sanatan Sanstha and its affiliate Hindu Janajagruti Samiti (HJS), maintained notes on surveillance, used fake names and coded messages, and had multiple SIM cards and handsets. They were arrested on Thursday (May 31).

“In recent times, the four were not seen during routine activities and events of the outfit (HJS) but they are suspected to have been engaged in some underground work,’’ police sources told Indian Express.

Police have identified the four as Sujeet Kumar alias Praveen alias Manjunath alias Sujeet S.R., 37, from Udupi in Karnataka; Amol Kale alias Bhaisab alias Sanjay Bhansare, 37, from Pune; Amit Degwekar alias Amit alias Pradeep Mahajan, 38, from Ponda in Goa; and Manohar Edave alias Manoj, 28, from Vijayapura in Karnataka, the newspaper reported.

When asked about the men’s links to the HJS, the organisation’s Karnataka spokesperson Mohan Gowda told Indian Express, “Some of the arrested men may have attended HJS programmes but hundreds of people come for our events.’’

Police said they found elaborate notes in the houses of three of the accused, written in both code and normal language, on the precautions to be used while carrying out surveillance work. “A diary found at the home of Edave from Vijayapura, for instance, contains notes about steps to be taken during reconnaissance. The jottings suggest that among the tasks involved in reconnaissance is tracking CCTV cameras. Diary entries by two of the suspects refer to CCTV cameras in code language as “bulbs”,” the Indian Express report says. The accused also reportedly used fake number plates on a motorcycle while surveilling Lankesh’s neighbourhood.

Police also said that the four used aliases when talking to newcomers to the group about their activities. Sujeet Kumar, for instance, suspected to be the head of the covert operations in Karnataka, identified himself as Praveen to K.T. Naveen Kumar, a Hindu Yuva Sena member, who allegedly did the logistics for the men. Praveen was identified as Sujeet Kumar only after his arrest on May 19, Indian Express reported.

The police also found several phones with the accused. “All the phones are low cost feature phones which they seem to be using in a disposable manner to make only a few select calls,’’ police sources said.

According to the police chargesheet, the accused killed Lankesh because they “were angry with her for speaking against Hindu dharma, Gods of Hindu dharma and insulting Hindu dharma.” According to The Hindu, full statements of the accused have not been made public as the police is afraid that others involved, who are yet to be caught, will be tipped off.

Gauri Lankesh, editor of the weekly Lankesh Patrike magazine, was shot dead by unidentified men at her residence in Bangalore late on September 5, 2017.