In 2008, ‘Malegaon bombers’ had Godhra in crosshairs, did a recce

In September 2008, days before the coordinated terrorist attacks in Malegaon in Maharashtra and Modasa in Gujarat, two men on a Hero Honda motorcycle rode west out of Indore, Madhya Pradesh, on a very specific mission. A third man, their associate in the same mission, took a bus.

The men's destination: Godhra, 270 km away, where six-and-a-half years earlier, 58 Hindus were burnt alive on the Sabarmati Express, triggering the Gujarat riots. The men's purpose: a recce of targets for a possible 'revenge' attack.

According to sources in the National Investigation Agency (NIA), the three men were Dhan Singh, Ramji Kalsangra and Amit alias Prince, members of the same group of Hindu extremists who allegedly carried out the terrorist bombings in Malegaon in September 2006, on the Samjhauta Express in February 2007, at Hyderabad's Mecca Masjid in May 2007, and at the Ajmer Dargah in October 2007.

The Indian Express reported on Monday that forensic evidence shows several similarities between the bombs used in these attacks and the ones that went off in Malegaon and Modasa on September 29, 2008.

The three men who allegedly visited Godhra in September 2008 had also visited Malegaon exactly a week before the terrorist attack in September 2006, in which 37 people were killed. In 2008, they followed exactly the same recceing style that they had used in Malegaon in 2006. Just as they had done two years ago, this time too they chose a Friday for the recce, and surveyed the town's mosques.

Like in September 2006, they started out on the recce from Indore, where they had assembled along with several others. In Indore, they met at precisely the same house where they had met in 2006.

The Indian Express reported on January 2 that the alleged planters of the Malegaon 2006 bombs — Dhan Singh, Ramji Kalsangra, Rajender Choudhary and Amit alias Prince — had, in August that year, assembled in an apartment that Amit had rented in Indore's Manavtha Nagar. The decision to recce Malegaon on September 1, 2006, was allegedly taken at this meeting.

Dhan Singh was arrested in Chitrakoot in Madhya Pradesh's Satna district on December 17, 2012. Two days earlier, Choudhary had been picked up in Ujjain district, also in Madhya Pradesh. Ramji and Amit alias Prince, who is also known as Ashwani Chauhan, are absconding.

In 2006, the choice of Malegaon as target was made by RSS pracharak Sunil Joshi, Dhan Singh is learnt to have told NIA interrogators. In 2008, the leadership of the group had apparently passed on to Ramji, Joshi having been murdered in Dewas on December 29, 2007.

Dhan Singh is learnt to have told investigators that Ramji summoned him to the Manavtha Nagar flat and told him to leave for Godhra immediately. Ramji allegedly escorted Dhan Singh to the Indore bus depot, from where the latter travelled to the Gujarat town, stopping once in between.

The next morning, Dhan Singh bumped into Amit at Godhra bus depot. Amit appeared to have reached before him. Dhan Singh also saw Ramji from a distance, walking towards the local bazaar, sources said.

Over the next three hours, the three men visited several mosques in the area. They came face to face on several occasions, but did not, like in Malegaon two years ago, speak to each other.

On September 29, 2008, two days before Eid, two bombs exploded at the same time at Malegaon and Modasa, killing 8 people. The reason why the plan to attack Godhra was aborted remains under investigation.

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