Malegaon blast trial: Another witness retracts statement to save Col Purohit

Mumbai, June 30 (KMS): Another witness in the 2008 Malegaon blast case has retracted his previously issued statement given to Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) apparently in a bid to save Indian army Lt. Colonel Prasad Purohit, an accused in the case.

Before this, 20 witnesses had turned hostile during the trial where BJP MP Pragya Singh Thakur is the prime accused. The Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS), which had initially investigated the blast before the case was transferred to the National Investigation Agency (NIA), had recorded the statement of the witness in 2008. According to the police, the motorbike used in the blast was registered in Pragya Singh Thakur’s name, and that led to her arrest in 2008. Lt Col Purohit, who was in the Deolali Army cantonment area, was also arrested at the same time.

The latest witness, who ran a business of arms, in his statement in 2008 to the ATS had said that Purohit had visited his arms shop in 2006 for purchasing ammunition. The witness had further said that Purohit had attempted to purchase a weapon from him without a licence in September that year. But during his deposition before the special National Investigation Agency court on Wednesday, the witness didn’t confirm some parts of his statement to the ATS, a prosecution lawyer said. Recalling the incident from 2008 that took place just days before the blast, the witness, while calling Purohit a law-abiding citizen, told the court that he (Purohit) had arms licence as a military man and based on that, he had sold him ammunition once. The investigating agency had said that the witness had said in his statement in 2008 that Purohit had attempted to purchase a weapon from him without a licence in September that year.

Reportedly, the witness also failed to recognise Purohit in the court and also the weapon shown to him. “Due to lapse of long span and my illness, I cannot identify exactly Colonel Prasad Purohit,” the witness told the court. He also said he was unable to identify the weapon shown to him. He denied that he was making a false statement to save Purohit.

Notably, six people were killed and over 100 injured on September 29, 2008, after an explosive device strapped to a motorcycle went off near a mosque at Malegaon town in Nashik district, located about 200 kilometres from Mumbai. The motorcycle used later led the police to the accused. Initially, the blasts were suspected to be a work of Muslim extremists. The Mumbai Anti-terror Squad was deployed to help the Malegaon police in investigation. The ATS team was led by ATS chief Hemant Karkare, who was later mysteriously killed in the 26/11 Mumbai attack.

Through the motor cycle used, the ATS collected evidence which pointed to the involvement of Hindu extremist groups behind the attack. On October 24, 2008, the police arrested 3 people in connection with the blast including BJP’s Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur. On November 4, 2008, the ATS arrested Lt. Col. Prasad Shrikant Purohit, a serving Army officer, for his involvement in the blast. Following this, the Hindu extremist organizations including the BJP and the Shiv Sena accused the ATS of having political motives behind the arrests and blamed the Congress for using the ATS for political gains. The ATS investigation revealed that several of the accused may have been involved in other acts of terrorism including the Modasa blast in Gujarat, the Mecca Masjid Blast in Hyderabad in 2007 and the 2007 Samjhauta Express blast.

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