The investigation into the Godhra carnage, which took place exactly a year ago, is entering a crucial stage and the Gujarat police may seek the assistance of the Central Bureau of Investigation to solve the case.
A senior state government official said the new leads thrown up by the interrogation of one of the prime accused, Maulvi Hussein Umerji, suggest that the case should be handed over to the CBI.
"The Gujarat police can't do much to probe the maulvi's nexus abroad, especially in Pakistan," a senior police officer in Gandhinagar also said.
The investigation is now zeroing in on the Pakistani connections of the accused, Gujarat's Minister of State for Home Amit Shah told rediff.com
After the dramatic arrest of Maulvi Umerji, 55, on February 6, the investigators have stumbled upon the names of three Pakistani nationals who had migrated to Karachi from Godhra in 1947. These businessmen are believed to have had a 'live connection' with some residents, including Umerji, of Signal Falia, the notorious ghetto near Godhra station.
Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence might be supplying the huge amounts of money that these businessmen are believed to be sending into Godhra, the investigators suspect.
But the Gujarat police will have to establish that the three Pakistani nationals sent money through the hawala channels to Godhra to help plan and execute the carnage. For this, they will need the assistance of central investigative and intelligence agencies.
According to Deputy Inspector General of Police Rakesh Asthana, who heads the special investigation team probing the Godhra massacre, Umerji's interrogation has revealed that some residents of Godhra were receiving huge amounts of money from various countries, especially Karachi.
According to Amit Shah, "Umerji was sending this black money to some 300 Muslim organisations in 14 states of India."
Umerji is a follower of the Deoband school of Islam and a local leader of the Tableegh-e-Jamaat. Since the Gujarat riots, he has been an active member of the peace committees set up to provide relief and rehabilitation. He always led the delegations when national leaders visited Godhra after the carnage. Among the leaders he has met in this manner are Defence Minister George Fernandes and Congress president Sonia Gandhi.
Umerji's colleague Mukhtar Sheikh of Kalol told rediff.com, "Since the last 12 months maulviji was trying his best to cool the tempers of young Muslim boys who were bent on taking revenge. He always calms down agitated victims in the relief camps. His arrest is not shocking but saddening for all of us who are involved in relief work."
The arrest was made after the 'confessional' statement of Jabir Binyamin Behera, one of the co-accused who was arrested on January 22, 2003. In a statement he has apparently told the police that the carnage was planned a day earlier.
Behera, a small-time criminal who operated near Godhra station, cried in the court while giving his statement. He said that on February 26, 2002, a conspiracy to torch the Sabarmati Express was hatched at the Aman Guest House, owned by Razzak Kurkur, another co-accused. According to Behera, Kurkur, local politician Haji Bilal, Salim Paanwala, a paan-shop owner at the station, and Farukh Bhana, a local Congress politician, were the main conspirators, working on the instructions of Umerji.
According to Behera, at about 9.30pm on February 26, he was called to the Aman Guest House opposite the Godhra station. Around 11.30pm, Bilal and Bhana arrived there. Behera claims that Bilal said, "Maulvi [Umerji] Saheb se baat hui hai, S6 main aag lagani hai. [We have talked to Umerji; the S6 bogie has to be torched]."
Petrol was collected and the gang was ready by 1.30pm.
The police say they have re-enacted the event and Behera's statement matches the earlier recorded statement of Ajay Baria, a witness.
According to the police, the maulvi's telephone was being tapped since July 2002 and they have proof to suggest that he received a large amount of foreign funds through illegal channels. They are also checking the list of calls made from his cellular phone.
The police claim that the maulvi has been very forthcoming in custody. According to them, he has been talking about the illegal activities of some members of the Muslim community in Signal Falia, though he repeatedly swears by his 13 children that he was not involved in the carnage.