Maharashtra: ATS Seizes Pistols from Residence of Key Terror Accused

'The latest seizure was based on the interrogation of the three accused.'

New Delhi: The Maharashta Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) seized close to ten pistols from the residence of Vaibhav Raut, who has been accused of running ‘Hindu Govansh Raksha Samiti’, a little-known cow protection outfit, in Nala Sopara, a report in the Indian Express said.

Forty-year-old Raut was arrested on August 11 along with two others, Sharad Kalaskar and Sudhanwa Gondhalekar, following raids that began the night before in the Palghar district and spread to Pune. The ATS, which carried out the arrests on the basis of information, said it was investigating whether those arrested had any connections with the killings of journalist Gauri Lankesh and rationalists Narendra Dabholkar and Govind Pansare.

“Around 10 pistols were seized from his residence. The latest seizure was based on the interrogation of the three accused. From their make, it looks like these pistols were procured from Uttar Pradesh. However, we are probing if they were procured or manufactured by the group,” a senior official was quoted as saying in the Indian Express report.

While Raut has been associated with cow vigilantism, the Express report quoted sources saying that ATS recovered a “chit detailing how to assemble a bomb” from Kasalkar. The ATS is also looking to probe a graphics firm run by Gondhalekar, reportedly a member of Shri Shivpratishthan Hindustan, an organisation headed by Sambhaji Bhide, who is said to have instigated the violence against celebrations of the 200th anniversary of the Bhima-Koregaon battler earlier this year.

“Our probe will focus on finding out if Gondhalekar managed to float an unit or if the arrested accused managed to get in touch with arms suppliers from other states who helped them obtain this cache of weapons and ammunition,” an officer told the Indian Express.

The ATS is now investigating if the three arrested and their aides procured the ammunition from elsewhere (other states) or if they were running a weapons manufacturing unit.

On Saturday, ATS chief Atulchandra Kulkarni had said the accused had stored a huge cache of explosive materials and they would be questioned about all cases where involvement of right-wing extremists is suspected.

According to the ATS, the raids were conducted at Raut’s house in Bhandar Aali in Nala Sopara West and at a nearby shop which he owned and the raid led to the seizure of 20 crude bombs, two gelatin sticks, four electronic and 22 non-electronic detonators, 150 gm explosive powder, two bottles labelled ‘poison’, batteries, soldering equipment, and a bomb circuit drawing.

The trio had been under police surveillance for more than two weeks, another ATS official had said, adding that all three seemed to be “trained for sabotage activities”.

The ATS had booked the three under IPC Section 120 (B) (criminal conspiracy), provisions of the Explosives Act as well as under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) Sections 16 (punishment for terrorist act), 18 (conspiracy for terrorist act) and 20 (being a member of terrorist gang.)

“We will question them regarding all detected and undetected cases, including Dabholkar, Pansare and Gauri Lankesh (murder) cases,” the ATS official stated.

According to the Indian Express report, ATS sources said that during the initial questioning, all the three accused claimed innocence and blamed each other for the bombs and other ammunition. “Raut claimed that he was not aware that they were bombs and that he had kept the consignment for safe-keeping on the request of the other two accused. The other two have been claiming that the explosives were found at Raut’s residence and they had nothing to do with them,” an official was quoted as saying.