The Special Investigation Team (SIT) probing the murder of journalist-activist Gauri Lankesh has now traced the motor bike used by her killers. SIT sources told TNM that the bike was traced to Nanded in Maharashtra based on information obtained by the Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS). The SIT is trying to establish the identity of the original owner of the bike, which was allegedly sold multiple times over the past few months.
The ATS had uncovered the information upon questioning Srikant Pangarkar, a former Shiv Sena corporator and one of the suspects in the murder of rationalist and anti-superstition activist Narendra Dabholkar. Srikant was arrested after the ATS uncovered a huge cache of weapons and bombs in Mumbaiâ€™s Nalasopara earlier in August.
According to a source in Karnataka SIT, arrested suspects Amol Kale, Amit Degvekar and Rajesh Bangera allegedly played a larger role in the murders of rationalists Narendra Dabholkar, Govind Pansare and Professor MM Kalburgi.
Investigations have revealed that Amol Kale was the alleged mastermind and operations in-charge in the murders of Pansare, Kalburgi and Gauri. â€śHe was also involved in the murder of Narendra Dabholkar. He was one of the people involved in the planning but the mastermind of the murder is Virendrasinh Tawde, who is in CBI custody,â€ť the source added.
Amit Degwekar is alleged to have helped finance the operations for all four murders and was Amol Kaleâ€™s right-hand man, said a source in the SIT. â€śAmit Degwekar is suspected to have supplied money required for the planning and execution of the murders. He was also Kaleâ€™s adviser. Rajesh Bangera, the former PA to Kodagu MLC Veena Achaiah was also involved in the logistics and training of the killers. Bangera had one specification. He wanted the killers to shoot the victims in the forehead. Amol Kale supplied the weapon for the killings,â€ť the source alleged.
SIT sources revealed that the shooters in the four murders had returned the 7.65mm country-made pistol to Amol Kale after the murder. Kale in turn is alleged to have handed the weapon to different people after each murder.
â€śThe weapon was handed over to the three men arrested by Maharashtra ATS â€“ Sachin Andhure, Sharad Kalaskar and Srikant Pangarkar,â€ť the source added. In August, the ATS carried out raids in Nalasopara and arrested self-proclaimed gau rakshak and Sanatan Sanstha activist Vaibhav Raut, his associate Sharad Kalaskar and Pune resident Sudhvana Ghondalekar, Ghatkopar resident Avinash Pawar and Srikant Pangalkar for allegedly stockpiling crude bombs, explosives and firearms.
A small team of investigators with the Karnataka SIT, who were in Mumbai on Monday conducted a joint operation and searched a farmhouse 15km off Maharashtraâ€™s Jalna. Upon obtaining information from Pangarkar, the joint search operation revealed that the group had taken up a one-storey farmhouse where recruits were allegedly taught how to assemble bombs and fire guns.
Srikant Pangarkar was taken to the farmhouse on Sunday by the ATS, where he allegedly told the investigators that the space was used to impart lessons in assembling bombs in order to avoid suspicion. Crude bombs were tested in a dry well within the premises of the farmhouse, sources say.
The suspects were planning to trigger blasts across various spots in Mumbai, Nalasopara, Pune, Satara and Solapur during Ganesh Chaturthi celebrations.
Meanwhile, the Karnataka CID, probing the murder of Professor MM Kalburgi on Monday began interrogating the suspects arrested in Gauri Lankeshâ€™s murder. The CID has received permission from a Bengaluru court to interrogate the suspects till August 31 at the Parappana Agrahara Central Prison in Bengaluru, where the suspects are currently lodged.
â€śThere is a link between the murders of Gauri and Kalburgi. We are questioning the suspects so we can find evidence related to Kalburgiâ€™s murder. Also, we want to find if there is a link to Sameer Gaikwad, the prime suspect in Kalburgi and Pansare murders,â€ť CID sources said.
The CBI, which is probing Narendra Dabholkarâ€™s murder is seeking custody of Amol Kale, Amit Degwekar and Rajesh Bangera â€“ suspects in Gauriâ€™s murder.
Gauri Lankesh was shot dead outside her residence in Bengaluru on September 5 last year by two bike-borne assailants.