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First attempt to kill Gauri Lankesh was in June 2017, but aborted over ‘logistical issues’

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The latest suspect to be arrested in the case, Suresh H.L., has alleged torture by police, with his lawyer claiming he had been forced to confess.

Bengaluru: The first attempt to murder journalist Gauri Lankesh was made in June last year, three months before she was assassinated, sources close to the investigation have told ThePrint.

Lankesh, a Kannada journalist and activist, was killed outside her Bengaluru home on 5 September, 2017, shot dead just as she made her way past the main gate.

The sources confirmed that the June plan had to be aborted by the murder team, led by alleged mastermind Amol Kale and shooter Parshuram Waghmore, on account of “logistical issues”.

Another attempt was made on 4 September, but called off as Lankesh stayed out later than usual, and the killers decided against waiting around lest they arouse suspicion.

Eleven people, including Kale and Waghmore, have so far been arrested over their alleged role in the murder, which is believed to be part of a larger conspiracy to target 26 rationalists across the country.

The special investigation team tasked with the probe suspects the same people who killed Lankesh may be involved in the murders of rationalists M.M Kalburgi, Narendra Dabholkar, and Govind Pansare.

A few of the suspects in custody were caught while planning to kill another writer, K.S. Bhagwan. They were linked to Lankesh’s murder after police allegedly recovered incriminating evidence from them, including a map showing the location of the journalist’s murder.

Suspect alleges assault, torture by police

Within the last week, police have arrested four suspects, the latest being Suresh H.L., a resident of Tumakkuru, Karnataka, who is believed to have “direct links” to the conspiracy to kill rationalists in the state.

Police said they have “vital evidence in the form of written material and confessions of other accused” about Suresh’s role.

However, he was remanded in a day’s judicial custody by a local court this week after he alleged police had beaten him up and tortured him during questioning.

Suresh’s lawyer Nagesh Joshi told The Print that his client had been “badly beaten… his left cheek is swollen”.

“We could see in court how badly police had beaten him up… he was unable to speak to the judge. The court took cognisance and asked my client to undergo medical examination. It will prove how a common man can be forced into a false statement,” Joshi added.

In August 2017, police alleged, Kale, Manohar Edave (a suspected recruiter), and Waghmore, as well as fugitive Dada alias Nihal, stayed at Suresh’s house in Seegehalli, on the outskirts of Bengaluru, to conduct a recce of Lankesh’s neighbourhood and house. Suresh reportedly admitted as much after several rounds of questioning.

SIT sources told ThePrint that Suresh also got the other suspects in touch with Mohan Naik, who is among those in custody and accused of arranging accommodation for the accused at Kumbalgodu that is much closer to Lankesh’s house in Rajarajeshwari Nagar. According to Google Maps, while Seegehalli is approximately 36 km from Rajarajeshwari Nagar, Kumbalgodu is just 13km away.

Suresh’s arrest, police hope, will give them crucial information about the missing murder weapon and the bike on which the assailants travelled to Lankesh’s house. It is alleged that Suresh arranged the bike.

Special public prosecutor S. Vadavadagi told ThePrint that Suresh is a crucial link. “All that we can say at his point of time is that he is in possession of some incriminating evidence and police will require his custody to gain access to it,” he said.

Also called “teacher”, Suresh has also reportedly been associated with the Sanatan Sanstha – the latest suspect in the investigation into rationalists’ murders with a direct or indirect connection to the radical Hindutva group headquartered in Goa.

Before police reportedly discovered his “role” in the crime, Suresh had agreed to appear as a witness.

Meanwhile, fresh information about the suspect arrested before Suresh, Rajesh Bangera, suggests he was the arms trainer for Waghmore, Kale, Edave and other suspects, and was thus known as “Dronacharya”.

The SIT, in fact, described him as a “prize catch”.

He is also known to have hatched a conspiracy to eliminate Bhagwan, and film and theatre veteran Girish Karnad, among others.

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