Probe reveals Hindu terror cell

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Indian police have arrested nine people, including an army lieutenant colonel, a Hindu nun and a monk who heads a monastery, in connection with a bomb blast in a Muslim market during the holy month of Ramadan.

The investigation marks the first official confirmation of a Hindu terrorist cell in the nation of more than 1 billion where minority Muslims have been accused of orchestrating dozens of bombings in recent years.

“The Indian army’s prestige has been hurt,” said Lt. Gen. S.P.S. Dhillon, deputy chief of the Indian army staff.

When a bomb attached to a motorcycle killed seven people in the textile town of Malegaon in western India on Sept. 29, Muslims were initially suspected.

The motorcycle had sticker with the number 786, which can be interpreted as meaning, “In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful,” a salutation that begins chapters in the Koran.

The police Anti-Terrorism Squad in the western state of Maharashtra discovered that the bike was owned by Sadhwi Prajna Singh Thakur, a Hindu nun and a former leader of the student wing of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Over the past month, the squad has arrested 10 Hindu activists, including the 37-year-old nun, and Lt. Col. Shrikant Prasad Purohit, who served in military engineering and intelligence departments.

Others arrested included Dayanand Pandey, the chief monk of a Hindu monastery in northern India. The police squad said Mr. Pandey, a former Indian Air Force officer, was the mastermind of Malegaon blast.

Analysts said the arrests of Hindu activists and leaders for purported involvement in terrorist activities could embarrass the BJP — the largest national opposition party that has blamed ruling Congress party for being “soft” on terrorism.

But BJP leaders say the nun has been falsely framed in the case in a “political conspiracy” by the Congress, and plan to use the “harassment and torture of the innocent” nun as a campaign issue in the forthcoming national election.

“The Malegaon probe is not procedural, it is political. The government is targeting Hindu religious leaders … without sufficient evidence. We find these actions suspicious,” BJP President Rajnath Singh said. “They have given a communal color to terrorism. They have also targeted the most sacrosanct institution of the country - the army.”

Investigators say Col. Purohit stole RDX explosives from military stock and made the bomb that was used in Malegaon in September. They say he also may have supplied explosives for bombings at some other Muslim targets in recent years.

Security experts say the case reveals the infiltration of the upper echelons of the armed services by Hindu extremists.

“The Indian army never had such a case when a man has become [an accused] terrorist. It is a question of the infiltration of radical groups in the Indian army. The groups have been trying it for long,” said retired Maj. Gen. Afsir Karim.

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