Bengaluru: The gang involved in the murder of journalist-activist Gauri Lankesh has many others key targets on its hit list, the Special Investigation Team, which arrested the sixth suspect in connection with the case on Friday, has claimed.
The SIT obtained a diary from a man identified as Sujith Kumar alias Praveen which revealed that noted Kannada writer Prof KS Bhagawan, actor Girish Karnad, former minister BT Lalitha Naik, rationalist CS Dwarakanath and pontiff Veerabhadra Channamalla Swamy of Nidumamidi Mutt were also in the hit list for their anti-Hindutva stance.
The SIT, during a press conference on Friday, claimed that Parashuram Waghmare, the last of the six suspects arrested in connection with the Gauri Lankesh killing, was her alleged assassin.
The SIT claimed that the same weapon was used to shoot Lankesh and rationalists Govind Pansare and MM Kalburgi.
"Waghmare had shot Lankesh and the forensic report has confirmed that (rationalists) Govind Pansare, MM Kalburgi and Lankesh were murdered with the same weapon," an SIT official was quoted as saying by PTI. However, the SIT is yet to trace the murder weapon.
''Forensic examination can lead to such a conclusion when the hammer of a gun has left identical marks at the rear of a bullet even if the weapon itself has not been found,'' the SIT official said. Meanwhile, Waghmare's family has denied his involvement in the crime.
The SIT managed to bust the gang with the help of Praveen, who used to recruit people for his gang in Karnataka. It was through him that the entire network was busted including the alleged shooter Parashuram Waghmare from his home at Sindagi in Karnataka, the SIT claimed.
The gang has a wide network spread across at least five states and comprised at least 60 people, the senior SIT official said.
The organised gang refrained from giving any specific name to their underground organisation and included people drawn from Hindu right groups, the SIT official said, adding that it had around 60 members spread across at least five states but had no name.
"We discovered that this gang has a network in Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Goa and Karnataka," the official said.
The SIT, while stating that the gang might have recruited people from hardline right-wing outfits like Maharashtra-based Hindu Jagruti Samiti and Sanatan Sanstha, these organisations may not be directly responsible for the killings. Both the outfits have also categorically denied any role in the killing of Lankesh, Pansare and Kalburgi.
The Karnataka Police suspects the involvement of at least three more people in the Gauri Lankesh murder and have stepped up efforts to find them.
The investigators also found out that the suspects used to carry out their work in a phased manner. It involved recce, weaknesses of the person (target) and finally executing the plan, the SIT official said.
"The process of accomplishing the mission used to take six months to a year. The gang had almost reached the last phase of killing Prof KS Bhagawan (Kannada writer) when we nabbed them," he said.
Bhagwan had often angered the right-wing outfits with his writings and utterances against Hindu Gods. Police had uncovered the plot to kill Bhagwan recently and arrested four men, whose suspected role in the Lankesh murder case is also being investigated.
''Noted actor and Jnanpith recipient Girish Karnad too was in the hit list. His surveillance was in the last phase,'' the official said.
Lankesh, who was known for her anti-Hindutva voice, was shot dead on September 5 evening when she returned home in her car and was opening the gate of her house. The murder triggered a nationwide outrage. Government constituted the Special Investigation Team to probe the murder.
The team led by Inspector General of Police BK Singh has so far arrested at least six people, who are gun runner KT Naveen Kumar alias Hotte Manja, Sujith Kumar, Amol Kale, Manohar Edve, Amit Degvekar and Parashuram Waghmare.
(With PTI inputs)