Aseemanand, 3 others acquitted by NIA court in Samjhauta blast case

PANCHKULA: The National Investigation Agency (NIA) special court on Wednesday acquitted all four accused, including Swami Aseemanand, in the 2007 Samjhauta blasts case that killed 68 persons and left 12 injured.

amansharma@tribunemail.com

Bhartesh Singh Thakur & Sanjay Bumbroo
Tribune News Service
Panchkula, March 20

The National Investigation Agency (NIA) special court on Wednesday acquitted all four accused, including Swami Aseemanand, in the 2007 Samjhauta blasts case that killed 68 persons and left 12 injured.

Two improvised explosive devices (IEDs) had exploded aboard the train on February 18, 2007, near Dewana railway station in Panipat. The case, synonymous with “Hindu terror” or “saffron terror”, had remained a bone of contention between India and Pakistan as most of the victims on board the special train between the two countries were Pakistanis.

Besides Aseemanand, Lokesh Sharma, Kamal Chauhan and Rajinder Chaudhary were put on trial for murder, attempt to murder and charges under the Railways Act, Explosive Substances Act and Prevention of Damage to Public Property and Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act.

Of the four other accused in the case, Sunil Joshi was murdered on December 29, 2007, while Sandeep Dange, Ramchandra Kalsangre and Amit, alias Ashwani Chauhan, were never traced.

The trial went on for over five years but all key witnesses turned hostile. While Assemanand, accused of being the ideologue and financier, got bail on August 28, 2014, Sharma, Chauhan and Chaudhary — facing charges of planting bombs on board the train — stayed in jail.

NIA’s special prosecutor Rajan Malhotra said: “We will first go through the judgment and then give our opinion on filing an appeal.”

The NIA had told the court that it probed all possible links of ‘jihadi’ groups, “including LeT, Al-Qaida, SIMI, etc, and suspected persons associated with them e.g. Arif Qasmani, Safdar Nagori, David Headly, etc”.

The first major breakthrough came during the 2008 Malegaon blast investigation by ATS, Maharashtra, “which hinted towards the possible involvement of Sunil Joshi, Col Purohit, Ramchandra Kalsangra, Dange and others in the Samjhauta blasts”.

The NIA claimed Aseemanand was upset about terror attacks on temples and expressed anger during discussions with Joshi, Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur and Rateshwar, all of whom developed vengeance not only against ‘jihadists’, “but also the Muslim community”.

In June 2006, Aseemanand, Sadhvi Pragya, Joshi, Dange, Kalsangra, Sharma and Amit hatched a conspiracy in Gujarat, the agency claimed. 

The NIA arrested Aseemanand in 2010. 

The ideologue recorded a confessional statement under Section 164 of the CrPC, but later retracted. 


Samjhauta blast: A timeline

February 18, 2007: A blast in Samjhauta Express in Haryana’s Panipat kills 68 people, mostly Pak nationals.  

February 20, 2007: Haryana Police set up SIT to probe the case. 

July 29, 2010: NIA takes over the probe from Haryana Police.

June 20, 2011: NIA files chargesheet in Panchkula court.

July 2014: Aseemanand gets bail.

March 6, 2019: Final arguments in the case conclude, court reserves verdict.

March 11: A Pak woman, daughter of a blast victim, moves court for examination of eyewitnesses from her country.  

March 18: Arguments concludes on the Pak woman's plea. 

March 20, 2019: Anti-terror court first dismisses her petition, acquits four accused. 


Pak summons Indian envoy to protest acquittal of blast case suspects 

Islamabad: Pakistan on Wednesday summoned the Indian High Commissioner to lodge a strong protest against the acquittal of all four accused in the 2007 Samjhauta terror attacks that left 68 people, mostly Pakistanis, dead. 

Pakistan's Acting Foreign Secretary summoned Indian High Commissioner Ajay Bisaria today to lodge Pakistan's strong protest, the Foreign Office said in a statement. 

 The Acting Foreign Secretary stressed that Pakistan had consistently raised the "lack of progress and the subsequent, concerted attempts by India to exonerate the perpetrators of this heinous terrorist act in which 44 innocent Pakistanis lost their lives". 

The issue was raised repeatedly, including at the sidelines of the Senior Officials, Heart of Asia Meeting in 2016. Formal demarches were also lodged regularly with India on the lack of progress and acquittal of the accused in other cases, the statement said. — With PTI inputs

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