Terror in Varanasi: The story so far

Written by Manish Sahu | Lucknow | Updated: Dec 14 2010, 05:06am hrs
Before last Tuesday's blast, Varanasi had seen three terror attacks. Two of these cases, including the first which took place in 2005 at Dashashwamedh Ghat close to the site of the latest blast, remain unsolved. In the third case, investigation has been slipshod, and the police came up with a new theory more than two years after the blast.

* Dashashwamedh Ghat blast: Seven people were killed and 13 injured in a blast that took place at the Dashashwamedh Ghat on February 23, 2005. The blast took place near a Hanuman temple a few hours before the Ganga aarti. The police initially said the blast was caused by the bursting of a gas cylinder. After the forensic report of the samples collected from the site concluded that the blast had been caused by an IED, packed with ammonium nitrate sand iron nails, the police accepted that it was a terror strike. The case remains unsolved.

* Sankatmochan and cantonment railway station blasts: As many as 21 persons were killed in the twin blasts which took place at Sankatmochan Mandir and the Varanasi Cantt Railway Station on March 7, 2006. A third bomb was later found unexploded in Godaulia locality. All bombs were made by packing explosives in pressure cookers.

The police claimed the blasts were the handiwork of Harkat-ul Jihad-al-Islami (HuJI). The UP STF arrested Walliullah, the imam of a mosque in Allahabad's Phoopur area, on April 5, 2006, and said he was the mastermind. The police stated that the blasts were executed by three men from Bangladesh with whom Waliullah had studied at Deoband. They were never caught. The trial was transferred from Varanasi to a Ghaziabad court after a group of lawyers attacked Waliullah in the court premises on May 3, 2006. Waliullah is presently lodged at the Dasna jail in Ghaziabad.

In 2008, after the arrest of some members of the Indian Mujhaideen, the UP police declared the blasts were jointly conducted by HuJI and IM. Mohammad Saif, who was arrested after the Batla House encounter in Delhi on September 19, 2008, was brought to Varanasi and questioned.

He reportedly told the police that a day before the blast, Atif, who was killed in the Batla House encounter and other IM members, had bought pressure cookers in Azamgarh. Atif and Chota Sajid, who also died in the Batla House encounter, allegedly packed explosives in the pressure cookers at a place that Saif said he did not know.

Saif reportedly told the police the bomb at Sankatmochan Mandir was planted by Mirza Shadab Beg, Asadullah Akhtar alias Asadullah Khan and an unidentified man, while the one at the railway station was planted by Ariz Khan alias Junaid and an unidentified man. Like Atif and Saif, Shadab Beg, Asadullah Akhtar and Ariz Khan also belong to Azamgarh and are presently absconding.

* Court blasts: On November 23, 2007, nine persons were killed in a blast in the local courts of Varanasi. It took place around the same time when similar blasts took place in the courts of Faizabad and Lucknow. Four persons were killed in Faizabad. The high-intensity bombs were planted on bicycles. Five persons were arrested for the blasts in Faizabad and Lucknow, but the case of the Varanasi blast remains unsolved.

On December 22, 2007, the STF arrested two persons, Tariq and Khalid, from Barabanki followed by the arrests of two others, Sajjad and Tariq, from Jammu and Kashmir a week after. However, following allegations that Tariq and Khalid had been framed in the case, and their families questioning the police version of the circumstances in which they were arrested, the government set up an inquiry commission which is still investigating the matter.

The trial has begun in the case of the Faizabad blast, but the witnesses have refused to identify the accused. In this case also, after the arrest of IM men in 2008, the police said that the blasts had been jointly executed by HuJI and IM.