MALEGAON: Mohammed Ishaque, 20, was sipping tea at Nisar Diary in Bhikku Chowk when a crude bomb strapped to a motorcycle exploded, killing five and injuring at least 89. "It was as devastating as lightening," recalls Ishaque lying on a bed in Noor hospital. He suffered serious leg injuries.
The killer bike was parked outside Shakeel Goods Transport, barely 10 metres from Daregaon Police Chowki. Abdullah Ansari, the 75-year-old owner of Shakeel Goods, had instructed Iqbal, a waiter from Nisar Diary, to tell the police about the unattended bike. "The police was informed at 8.20 p.m., an hour and 15 minutes before the blast, but they failed to act," Ansari told Covert, pointing to his watch which had stopped at 9.35 p.m. Ansari is in hospital with head injuries.
Muslims of the area gathered, aggrieved about the police's failure to act. People were also angry that the police then attributed the blast to a gas cylinder burst. The mob attacked the police chowki; so the police responded with a lathicharge and finally resorted to firing the bullets to disperse people. About 35 policemen have been injured, including Deputy Superintendent of Police Virish Prabhu (IPS), whose condition is now stable.
Eyewitnesses said at least two persons were killed and 22 injured in the police firing. Maharashtra Home Minister and Deputy Chief Minister R.R. Patil told Covert, "Nobody died in the police firing, Police fired 58 rounds in the air so no one was injured."
This claim is hotly contested at Malegaon. Shoaib Ansari, editor of Urdu weekly Zaban-e-Khalk pulled up his sleeve to show a bullet injury on his right arm. "I had gone there to cover the incident. The bullet grazed me on the right arm," he said.
Nadeem Ahmed, a 17-year-old labourer passing by Bhikku Chowk, was hit by a bullet just below his kneecap. "I was not part of the mob. I was going to work at the powerloom factory when the police bullet hit me from behind," he told Covert. The attending doctor, Dr V.P. Vaidya, confirmed that Nadeem was hit by a police bullet. "The police wanted the recovered bullet but I have refused. I can't hand it over unless there is a Panchnama," he said.
A young man named Mushtaque Ahmed is also believed to have been killed in the firing. "My son was martyred in the police firing," his father Yusuf told Covert. Dr Saeed Farani of Faran hospital, where most of the injured were brought, is more hesitant. "I think at least three of the injured have bullet wounds. But I can't say with certainty since we have not recovered any bullets," he said.
The motorbike was traced to Eknath Pingle, a lab assistant in Panchavati College, Nasik. Pingle told the police he had sold it in 2002 to a dealer in second-hand vehicles. The second-hand dealer confirmed the purchase, but could not provide any information about the buyer.
Sanjeev Dayal, Additional Director General of Police (State Law and Order), has ruled out the involvement of the Indian Mujahideen in the blast at Malegaon because there were no similarities either in the mode or in the execution of the blast. He added that radical Hindu groups were also under the scanner.
The police is said to have detained at least six persons from neighbouring Chalisgaon and Malegaon, but Nasik SP (Rural) Nikhil Gupta denied this. Combing operations have been carried out at Jaffer Nagar, Golden Nagar and Naya Bazaar. The people are terrified of large-scale arrests. Mustafa Khan, a resident of Jaffer Nagar, pointed out, "Nothing will happen. Only the innocent will be harassed and victimised".