For the last five years, a clandestine group of radical Hindutva elements has recruited around 60 men in making bombs, creating communal unrest and sharpshooting in Karnataka. The Special Investigation Team probing Gauri Lankeshâ€™s murder had uncovered this information after questioning one of the prime suspects Amol Kale.
On Sunday, a team of SIT sleuths took off for Mumbai to look for the alleged mastermind â€“ the man they believe conceptualised the establishment of an organised, covert, radical Hindutva group, which includes planners, executors and logistics-handlers for a series of murders of rationalists and progressive writers across the country.
â€śWe believe that the mastermind of Gauri Lankesh murder, Nihal alias Dada, may be in Mumbai. There is also suspicion that he may be a government servant. Nihal is also an alias and the SIT is trying to track him down. He is the one who can lead us to the murder weapon,â€ť a source said.
When the SIT arrested accused Amol Kale earlier this year, the investigators learnt that among the people he had recruited were the same men arrested by the Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) in Mumbaiâ€™s Nalasopara.
It was the information that SIT passed on to ATS, which was used to raid the hideouts of several members of Hindu Janajagruthi Samiti (HJS). The ATS seized a cache of materials used to make bombs.
SIT sources revealed that of the 60 members recruited by Amol Kale and Nihal, 22 of them were from Karnataka who were being trained in the use of guns to kill rationalists.
â€śGauriâ€™s killer was one of these 22 men,â€ť the SIT source said. Investigations have revealed that these youths were also trained in creating communal hatred and also blowing up IEDs.
Details of their training were revealed after the arrest of the 12th accused in the case, Bharat Khurne (37), in Belagavi on August 9. Khurne allegedly trained these men at his vegetable farm in Khanapur.
Sources revealed that the group also carried out clandestine activities including recruiting and training men belonging to radical Hindutva outfits. These covert operations were centred around Maharashtra and Goa.
Three of the 12 persons arrested by the SIT in connection with Gauri Lankeshâ€™s murder; Parashuram Waghmore, Ganesh Miskin and Amit Baddi, have a history of inciting communal violence and were allegedly trained by Khurne.
â€śKeeping the operations secret was the main objective of our group. A new recruit would never be given phone numbers of any person in the group. Telephonic conversations took place over public phones. Only when the new recruit was initiated into the group and the members were sure of trusting him, one cellphone was given to the recruit. He had to use it to contact his point person and use his code name only and not his real name. This was done to ensure that other members did not know his identity. Everyone maintained that level of secrecy,â€ť Sujeet Kumarâ€™s statement to the SIT says.
Upon Sujeet Kumarâ€™s arrest in May, the SIT had searched his house in Udupi and found 22 cellphones, which the SIT believes were given to the groupâ€™s men.
SIT sources also revealed that they suspect a connection between the killers of rationalist Govind Pansare in Maharashtra and the HJS activists arrested in Mumbai on Friday.
â€śExactly a year after the suspect in Govind Pansareâ€™s case, Sameer Gaikwad, was released on bail, Gauri Lankesh was killed. The forensic evidence states that rationalist MM Kalburgi and Gauri Lankesh were killed by the same weapon. CIDâ€™s investigation had also revealed that there was a possible connection between the Kalburgi and Pansare murders. It is an angle the SIT is looking into,â€ť the source said.