New Delhi: The National Investigation Agency (NIA) may reopen the serial blast cases in Patna’s Gandhi Maidan and Bodh Gaya serial blast cases after alleged SIMI operative Azharuddin was arrested at the Hyderabad airport on Friday night, according to a report in the Times of India.
Azharuddin, who is also known as ‘Chemical Ali’, is an accused in the 2013 Bodh Gaya and Patna bomb blasts and had been on the run since December 2013 after the Chhattisgarh police’s anti-terrorist squad busted a SIMI sleeper module and arrested 17 operatives.
Police claimed that Azharuddin or Azhar went to Saudi Arabia on a fake passport after hiding in Hyderabad for some time. A police official told TOI that Azhar had come back from Saudi Arabia to meet his family, which had shifted to Hyderabad, when he was arrested at the airport on October 11.
“Acting on a specific input, he was arrested by a joint team of Chhattisgarh Police and its Anti-Terrorist Squad (ATS) wing from Hyderabad airport on Friday after he landed (in a flight) from Saudi Arabia,” Raipur SSP Arif Sheikh said.
Azhar has been charged under sections of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), Arms Act and Explosive Substances Act. A sedition case has also been registered against him.
Speaking to TOI, Sheikh said that the police had seized Azhar’s passport boarding pass, two driving licences and a voter ID card. “We expect his interrogation to reveal crucial links in the terror network and their operations. Azhar will be produced in [a] local court for transit remand,” the SSP said.
Police officials also said that Azhar, who was regularly in touch with SIMI operatives, had been involved in raising funds for banned terror outfits and brainwashing recruits. He is also accused of providing shelter and support to terrorists who organised the Bodh Gaya and Patna blasts.
A senior police official said that Azharuddin may have provided logistics to bombers in both the blasts. “His interrogation will make things clearer,” he said, speaking to TOI. While the trial in the Gandhi Maidan blast case is underway, all the five convicts in the 2013 Bodh Gaya serial blasts were sentenced to life imprisonment by an NIA court in June 2018.
In July 2013, ten bombs exploded around the Mahabodhi temple complex in Bodh Gaya and injured five persons. Later in October 2013, bombs exploded in Patna’s Gandhi Maidan, just before the then prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi was scheduled to arrive for a public rally.
The suspects involved in the blasts allegedly took refuge in Raipur with Azhar’s aid. Sheikh, the Raipur SSP, told TOI that Azhar sheltered the bombers of both blasts. “We have taken him on two days’ remand for interrogation. [The] NIA and Intelligence Bureau (IB) sleuths were also interrogating him,” he said.
While 17 operatives linked to SIMI were arrested in December 2013 – of which Umer Siddiqui and Azharuddin Qureshi were later convicted in the Bodh Gaya case – Azhar managed to flee.