Mumbai: Three persons, including one affiliated to a right-wing outfit, were arrested today, with the Maharashtra police saying that it had recovered a large quantity of explosives that were to be used for carrying out blasts at various places in the state.
The Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) of Maharashtra, which carried out the arrests on the basis of a specific information, said it was investigating whether those arrested had any connections with the killings of journalist Gauri Lankesh and rationalists Narendra Dabholkar and Govind Pansare.
Vaibhav Raut (40), Sharad Kalaskar (25) and Sudhanwa Gondhalekar (39) were arrested following raids that began last night in the Palghar district and spanned to Pune, the police said.
A court in Mumbai remanded all three in ATS' custody till August 18 this evening.
ATS chief Atulchandra Kulkarni said the accused had stored a huge cache of explosive materials, and they would be questioned about all cases where involvement of right-wing extremists is suspected.
"We will question them regarding all detected and undetected cases, including Dabholkar, Pansare and Gauri Lankesh (murder) cases," he said.
The ATS said it zeroed in on the accused after it received a tip off that some persons were planning to carry out "acts of conspiracy" at many places across the state.
"We also received information that these persons had stored vast quantities of arms and ammunition in places such as Satara, Nallasopara and Pune. We were able to get their phone numbers and thus, ascertained their identities," the Additional Public Prosecutor Sunil Gonsalves told the sessions court here while seeking the accused's custody.
Earlier in the day, a police officer also said that Raut allegedly ran 'Hindu Govansh Raksha Samiti', a little-known pro-cow protection outfit, in Nallasopara.
While his purported social media account mentioned that he was associated with the right-wing Sanatan Sanstha, the outfit denied that Raut was its member.
According to the ATS, the raids were conducted at Raut's house in Bhandar Aali in Nallasopara West and at a nearby shop which he owned, and the same led to the seizure of 20 crude bombs, two gelatin sticks, 4 electronic and 22 non-electronic detonators, 150 gm explosive powder, two bottles labelled 'poison', batteries, soldering equipment, and a bomb circuit drawing.
According to the police, Raut is an estate agent, Kalaskar works in a private firm, while Gondhalekar runs his own business.
The three had been under police surveillance for more than two weeks, said another ATS official, adding that all three seemed to be "trained for sabotage activities".
Sleuths are probing if they were going to carry out any terrorist act ahead of Bakri Eid festival this month, and Independence Day, he said.
As they were in possession of explosive materials, it seemed that they were not mere "footsoliders" of the extremist "gang" they were members of, the officer said.
The ATS also said that while going through their mobile phone records, and SIM card activities, it realised that some SIM cards were being used by multiple people.
"It hinted that all these persons were in some conspiracy," the probe agency said.
The ATS has booked the three under IPC section 120 (B) (criminal conspiracy), provisions of the Explosives Act as well as under the Unlawful
Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) sections 16 (punishment for terrorist act), 18 (conspiracy for terrorist act) and 20 (being a member of terrorist gang.)
While remanding them in ATS custody today, the court observed that prima facie it appeared that the three accused were part of a conspiracy.
"The allegations made against the accused are of very serious nature. Several incriminating articles have been recovered from their possession and prima facie, the accused appear to be part of a conspiracy," the court said.
It also took into account that the ATS needed the custody to ascertain where the arrested accused had received training, where had the bombs come from, and if they were part of any terrorist organisation.
Defence lawyers urged the court to remand the accused in judicial custody, saying that it was likely that they would be tortured by ATS officers.
In court, Kalaskar and Gondhalekar alleged that they were assaulted by ATS officers.
The court, however, noted that the medical examination of all accused did not show any external injuries.
Judge Adkar then directed the ATS to take the accused persons for another medical examination and submit its report on August 13.