Over 14 years after a frenzied mob torched a coach of Sabarmati Express train at Godhra station, the city Crime Branch arrested Imran Ahmed Bhatuk, a key accused, from Malegaon in Maharashtra.
Fifty-nine people, mostly kar sevaks returning from Ayodhya, were killed when S-6 coach of the Sabarmati Express was set on fire at Godhra on February 27, 2002. The incident triggered widespread communal riots across the state.
According to police, Bhatuk, who used to live in Muslim Society in Godhra, is one of the key accused in the Godhra carnage case, as he along with some other accused went inside the S-6 coach of the train to sprinkle petrol before it was set ablaze from outside.
"A team of crime branch nabbed Bhatuk (37), who was on the run for 14 years, from Malegaon in Maharashtra yesterday. He was brought here today," Joint Commissioner of Police, crime branch, J K Bhatt said at a press conference in Ahmedabad.
"As part of their pre-planned conspiracy, the train was stopped at Godhra station through chain pulling. Then, Bhatuk and some other accused, who were carrying 160 litres of petrol, cut apart the vestibule between two coaches and entered into the S-6 coach to sprinkle petrol," Bhatt said.
The coach was then set ablaze from outside by other accused after locking the doors. While 58 persons were charred to death on the spot, one person died later, the official said adding that Bhatuk then fled to Dhulia in Maharashtra and got married. He stayed there for six years before moving to Malegaon.
"In order to nab Bhatuk, who was known as Imran Sheru in Godhra, the crime branch officials had been gathering information since the last six months and had visited Malegaon at least seven times in the past two months," Bhatt said.
"We learned that apart from working as an rickshaw driver, Bhatuk was working with a sand mining firm in Malegaon and living in Mohanbaba Nagar in Malegaon, which is slum area dominated by Muslims. Based on this information, we finally managed to nab him yesterday," the JCP said.
After questioning, Bhatuk will be handed over to the Supreme Court-appointed Special Investigation Team (SIT) for further action, Bhatt said.
The Godhra carnage had triggered large-scale riots in Gujarat, in which around 1,000 people, mostly of minority community were killed. As many as 95 people have been arrested in the case so far. The court convicted 31 of them, out of which, 11 were sentenced to death while 20 were given life term. The case is at present pending for judgment in the Gujarat HC.
"Four to five accused in the case are still absconding.
Those who are yet to be nabbed include Salim Panwala, Rafiq Bhatuk, Shaukat Lalu and a couple of others," Bhatt said.