Pune cops couldn't prevent blast in own backyard

Jul 11, 2014, 01:32 IST | Salil Urunkar

The bike on which bomb was planted belonged to a policeman and was stolen from the district court; it was parked on the premises of a police station, an area where common citizens aren’t allowed to park

The Centre may decline to call it a terrorist act and the police can continue to be vague and say that they are exploring all angles, but yesterday’s low-intensity explosion has blasted the reputation of the security apparatus, and especially the cops, to shreds.

Also read: Two injured in Pune motorbike blast

Bike examine
Officials examine the bike on which the explosives were planted. Pics/Mohan Patil

A series of failures on the part of the police and the intelligence agencies led to the perpetrators of the blast succeeding in attacking an area that’s been on high alert ever since the German Bakery bombings of 2010, when the Dagdusheth Temple was allegedly also on the IM’s radar.

Ball bearings recovered from the blast site
Ball bearings recovered from the blast site

One needs audacity, and an inept police force, to steal a policeman’s bike, plant a bomb in it and park it inside a police station — in an area where common citizens are not allowed to park their vehicles.

Gulab Kachru Khedkar and student Akshay Shinde
Lucky escape: Injured Police constable Gulab Kachru Khedkar and student Akshay Shinde

The number of points at which this plan could have backfired are many — the policeman’s bike could have been recovered and the thieves investigated about the motive; intelligence agencies could have pointed to the possibility of a blast; a cop could have prevented whoever parked the bike, presumably not a policeman, from parking inside the police station — but none of these happened, pointing to failures across the board.  The end result — six people were injured, but it could have been much worse. While refusing to come on record, a senior intelligence official admitted that there had definitely been an intelligence failure.

Around 2.05pm yesterday, a bomb planted on a stolen bike exploded in the parking lot of Faraskhana police station, adjacent to the highly sensitive Ganesh temple managed by the Shrimant Dagdusheth Halwai Ganpati Trust at Budwar Peth. Six people, including a constable, were injured in the incident.

The bike on which the explosive was planted belongs to Dada Rajage, a policeman from the city. It was stolen on June 25 from the premises of the district court. While it is still uncertain exactly when the stolen bike was parked in front of the Faraskhana building, intelligence sources claimed it had been there since Wednesday night.

Nandini Ghodke, a journalist who was across the road from the site of the explosion, said, “Around 2.05 pm, I heard a big explosion. Initially people, were claiming that an electricity box had exploded. Fire brigade officials arrived a little later and it was clear that it was not a normal explosion.” The stolen bike was parked in a way that would ensure that the shrapnel reached the road and caused maximum damage and injuries.

Constable Dnyaneshwar Devkar, who had parked his bike very close to the one on which the bomb was, said, “If my bike had not been there, the injuries would have been higher as the shrapnel would have hit many people on the road.” The impact of the explosion was such that four other motorcycles, including Devkar’s, were completely wrecked. After the blast, traffic was diverted from Budhwar chowk to Shivaji road, which led to heavy traffic jams.

Manisha Dattatreya Jadhav, owner of the Swami Samarth Krupa Snack centre, which is very close to the blast site said, “I was sitting in the shop and heard a loud explosion outside. Our employee, Jaswantsingh Mataprasad Singh, who was just outside the shop, was injured. We were shocked and couldn’t figure out what had happened.” Jadhav also sustained minor injuries.

The other injured persons include police constable Gulab Kachru Khedkar and college students Sushant Ashok Salunkhe, Akshay Shinde and Mayur Vitthal Salunkhe. Sushant and Akshay study in Eklavya Polytechnic College in Kothrud and were in the area to buy some books. While Khedkar sustained injuries on his chest, Akhsay’s were on his face and Sushant’s on his hand. They were all admitted to Sassoon hospital for treatment and discharged later.

Examination of the crime scene by the forensic experts revealed that about 1.5 kg of nails and ball bearings were used along with a gelatin or ammonium nitrate mixture. 1.5-volt batteries and an electronic timer circuit were also recovered from the crime scene. The bomb’s make was ‘crude’ and points to the modus operandi of certain groups, said sources.

Police Commissioner Satish Mathur said, “After looking at the elements found on the spot, we can definitely say it was an explosive device. Nails and ball bearings have been recovered from the spot. We have identified the owner of the bike on which the explosive device was planted and it has been confirmed that the bike was stolen. We are also checking the CCTV camera footage available to us as part of our investigations.”

“There were no specific inputs regarding the blast and the city police were, and are, alert. All organisations are under our surveillance. Security in and around all sensitive locations in the city has been beefed up,” Mathur stated.

A team of explosives experts from the Pune Forensic Science Laboratory, Bomb Detection and Disposal Squad (BDDS) visited the spot and collected samples which may prove to be crucial evidence in the investigation. Senior officials from the Intelligence Bureau, Military Intelligence, the Pune unit of the state Anti-Terrorism Squad and city police officials also visited the crime scene. State Home Minister RR Patil and Director General of Police Sanjeev Dayal were also in the city last night.

Strategic location
The Faraskhana-Vishrambaug police station building is situated in the heart of the city and is adjacent to the famous Dagdusheth Mandir on Shivaji road. After several intelligence inputs and a failed attempt by the Indian Mujahideen operatives to plant explosives near the temple, security was beefed up in the area in front of the temple and on Shivaji road. The rear side of the temple however, where hundreds of citizens visit the police station building daily, was vulnerable.
This vulnerability in the security setup was exploited by the bombers, who parked the motorcycle inside the police station.

Footage useless?
There are about six CCTV cameras in and around the area where the explosion took place. Three cameras are at the entrance of the Faraskhana-Vishrambaug building entrance, which is about 60 ft away from the site of the explosion. However, the cameras are pointed at the building’s entrance and the footage from them may not reveal anything about the bombers.

The other three CCTV cameras are placed in front of Dagdusheth Mandir at Budhwar chowk and on the Ratan Talkies building. All of these cameras are far away from the crime scene, but could have possibly caught the movements of bombers. However, given the huge number of vehicles and pedestrians that use that road daily, zeroing-in on suspects will be an uphill task for the police and investigating agencies.

Third hit
Banned organisations like the Indian Mujahideen (IM) and Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) have a strong support base and sleeper cells in Pune. These banned organisations have been looking at Pune as their logistical base and had first targeted the city on 13 February, 2010, by bombing the German Bakery in Koregaon Park and then on 1 August,  2012, by hitting targets on the bustling Jangli Maharaj road.

‘Revenge’ for the recent incidents of communal violence reported in the city may have been the motive behind yesterday’s blast. However, police are tight lipped about the involvement of any radical groups in this case and officers are simply saying that they are exploring all angles.

Off the record, however, officials say that they will also probe the involvement of Naxal and Maoist groups in the blast. The make of the bomb and the targeting of a police station has prompted the police to seriously consider this possibility, especially in the backdrop of a crackdown on Naxal and Maoist sympathizers in Pune.

“It was a minor blast. Why do you think it could be a terror act?” was the counter-question posed by Union Home Secretary Anil Goswami when reporters in Delhi asked him if the blast was a terror attack.

2010 attempt
mid-day had reported in 2011 how the Indian Mujahideen (IM) had planned to blow up the Dagdusheth Halwai temple on the day of the German Bakery blast.  The planter of the bomb had to drop the plan at the last moment because of an alert flower vendor on the temple premises. This information was revealed by Mohammad Qateel Siddiqui who was assigned the task of planting the bomb at Dagdusheth Halwai temple. Siddiqui was found strangled to death in the high-security Yerawada Central Jail in June 2012.

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