A special anti-terror court on Monday acquitted Hindutva preacher Swami Aseemanand and four others in the 2007 Mecca Masjid blast case, holding that the prosecution failed to prove “even a single allegation” against them.
Apart from Aseemanand, those acquitted are -- Devendra Gupta, Lokesh Sharma, Bharat Mohanlal Rateshwar alias Bharat Bhai and Rajendra Chowdhary.
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Though there were 10 accused in the case, only these five were tried. Two other accused -- Sandeep V Dange and Ramchandra Kalsangra -- are absconding, while Sunil Joshi and Ramprasad Kaloda are dead.
"Prosecution (NIA) could not prove even a single allegation against any of the accused and all of them stand acquitted," J P Sharma, the counsel for Assemanand, told reporters after the verdict was pronounced by special judge for NIA cases K Ravinder Reddy.
With five of the accused acquitted, two still missing and two dead, the case seems to hit a stone wall.
Those acquitted in the case on Monday included the prime accused Devendra Gupta who was convicted in the Ajmer Sharif blasts just a year ago.
Both blasts – Ajmer Sharif and Mecca Masjid – separated by five months in 2007, were parts of the same conspiracy and modus operandi by the NIA on the basis of the evidence from the forensic department. Gupta reportedly used mobile phones with SIM cards as timers to trigger the IED blasts.
A powerful blast, triggered by remote control, had ripped through the over four centuries-old mosque here during an assembly of devotees on May 18, 2007 when they had gathered for Friday prayers, killing nine people and wounding 58.
According to the NIA, Joshi – who was shot near his house in Dewas in December 2007 – was a key organiser of the gang responsible for the Samjhauta Express, Malegaon, Mecca Masjid and Ajmer Sharif blasts in 2006-07.
Rajasthan ATS’s chargesheet in 2011 says Joshi got explosives from Ramprasad Kaloda, who, like Joshi, was allegedly an aide of Aseemanand.
Barely hours after pronouncing the judgement, in a dramatic development, K Ravinder Reddy, the special judge for NIA cases, tendered his resignation, citing "personal" reasons.
Reddy said his resignation had nothing to do with today's judgement, according to a senior judicial officer.
Soon after the verdict, The NIA had come in for attack by oppostion parties, including the Congress and AIMIM.
Buoyed by the verdict, the BJP claimed that it had "exposed" the Congress's "appeasement politics" while the latter raised questions about the functioning of the NIA.
BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra alleged in New Delhi that the Congress has long "defamed" Hindus for votes and demanded that party president Rahul Gandhi and his predecessor Sonia Gandhi apologise for using terms like "saffron terror" and "Hindu terror".
Patra said people will teach the Congress "a lesson" in the Karnataka Assembly polls as in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections when the party was reduced to 44 seats.
Senior Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad said, "It (acquittal) is happening in each case since the government was formed four years ago...people are losing faith in the agencies."
Owaisi, in an earlier tweet, claimed that the NIA did not properly pursue the case, leading to the acquittal of the accused.