Surathkal (Mangaluru): Karnataka’s Dakshina Kannada region, which has seen three murders in a span of eight days, has been simmering, with the police suspecting that the killings are “inter-linked and retaliatory”. Now, with fresh details emerging through the course of the probe, investigators have detained 37 people — mostly members of Hindu outfits — and believe that the first murder was a “freak incident”, followed by “a series of communal incidents”.
It started with the murder of Masood, a 19-year-old Muslim migrant labourer, in Bellare town, 80 km from Mangaluru, on 21 July. Then, last Tuesday, Praveen Nettaru, 34, a prominent face of the ruling BJP’s youth wing — the Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha — and local businessman who lived around 8 km away from Masood’s house, was hacked to death in Bellare by two bike-borne assailants.
Within 48 hours of Nettaru’s murder, a 23-year-old man working at an oil refinery firm, Mahammad Fazil, was hacked to death by four unidentified assailants Thursday night. A total of 37 persons, most of them members of the Bajrang Dal, have been detained in connection with Fazil’s murder, top police sources told ThePrint.
Three FIRs — exclusively accessed by ThePrint — have been registered in connection with the three murders. The first FIR for Masood’s murder was initially lodged under IPC sections for rioting and attempt to murder, but the murder charge was added later. The second FIR, for the killing of Nettaru, was registered on a murder charge, while the third one for Fazil’s murder was lodged under sections of rioting with dangerous weapons, criminal intimidation and murder.
Police sources earlier told ThePrint that investigators had got details of a white Eon car, bearing a Karnataka number plate, in which Fazil’s assailants allegedly chased him before killing him. The owner of the car is one of the suspects, they added. On Sunday evening, the police arrested one Ajeet Krasta, who allegedly lent the car to the assailants. He initially refused to give the car to them, but later agreed when offered more money, police sources said, adding that he however was not present at the spot.
Mangaluru Commissioner of Police (CP) N. Shashi Kumar told The Print: “We have arrested Ajeet Krasta for lending his car to the assailants.”
A senior police officer who is privy to the investigation, told ThePrint: “We have detained 37 persons as of now for interrogation. Most of them belong to the Bajrang Dal. During the course of interrogation, they have given us some information that connects Fazil’s murder to Praveen’s. It is part of the same cycle of revenge killing that started with Masood’s in Bellare.”
The officer further said that investigators are now in the process of connecting dots. “The first murder of Masood was a freak incident, not planned, but it was followed by a series of commual incidents. A prominent Hindu face was killed to send out a message and then a young Muslim was killed. Both were hacked. As details of the investigation emerge, these three murders appear to be inter-linked and retaliatory in nature. We are also working on other details and have put some suspects under surveillance.”
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The three murders
When ThePrint visited Masood’s house, his brother Mirshad said that on 20 July, Masood got involved in a roadside brawl between two groups. He was then called to the same spot where the brawl happened, to apologise, where he was beaten with rods and bottles, added Mirshad. Masood succumbed to his injuries the next day. Eight persons were arrested in the case, and all of them are Hindus.
Meanwhile, Nettaru, a prominent BJYM member and local businessman, was hacked to death with swords by two bike-borne assailants Tuesday. Two persons were arrested in the case, both local Muslims.
Two days after Nettaru’s murder, Fazil was hacked to death near a shopping complex at Surathkal, 15 km from Mangaluru city.
What the FIRs say
According to the FIR lodged in connection with Masood’s murder, he had been staying at his grandfather’s house at Kalanja village, Bellare, for over a month and was working as a labourer. He got involved in a brawl with a local resident called Sudhir near a shop on 19 July. Masood threatened Sudhir using a bottle.
The next day, Sudhir and his friends, the FIR further said, asked Ibrahim Sheikh, a friend of Masood’s and known to Sudhir, to bring Masood to the same spot at around 11 pm. When Masood reached the spot, they started assaulting him with bottles and rods. Masood managed to flee, but was later found lying in a pool of blood in the wee hours.
According to the second FIR, on 26 July, Nettaru’s staff at his local shop filed a police complaint stating that he was assaulted outside the shop at around 8.30 pm and was found bleeding. He was declared dead later that day at Puttur Pragathi Hospital.
The third FIR, lodged in connection with Fazil’s murder, states that the complainant had mentioned that a car with 3-4 people inside and two bikes followed Fazil to a shop in a local market. When Fazil tried to hide inside the shop, three masked people carrying swords got down from the car and shouted that they would kill Fazil. They murdered Fazil and also threatened the complainant and other local residents before leaving the spot, the FIR stated.
Section 144 clamped in Surathkal
Police imposed Section 144 — which prohibits the gathering of four or more people in a particular area — in Surathkal Thursday following Fazil’s murder. A senior police officer held a peace committee meeting there Saturday, which was boycotted by local Muslim leaders.
Mangaluru CP Kumar and Additional Director General of Police (law and order) Alok Kumar were also present at the meeting. According to the minutes of the meeting — accessed by ThePrint — representatives of political parties including the BJP and Congress, who were in attendance, demanded: “Peace committee meetings should be held in Bellare and other local places and the CM should have visited all three murder victims’ families. Equal compensation has to be given to each of the deceased’s families, and anyone who delivers a provocative speech has to be booked under relevant provisions of law.”
The participants, which included local residents, also claimed that the chief minister is “the king” and has to reach everyone and treat them equally, apparently referring to CM Basavaraj Bommai calling on Nettaru’s family, but not stopping by Masood’s home, even though both were in the same town.
It was also decided at the meeting that the police would maintain strict surveillance on social media posts, that anything provocative would be taken down and strict action would be taken. A mohalla committee would be formed locally to monitor the situation.
ThePrint visited Fazil’s village at Surathkal, where preparations for his funeral were underway. Abdul Hamid, Fazil’s brother, said, “He was never involved in politics. He graduated two years ago and was working in the HPCL. He never got a threat call or any threat message. To us it looks like an unprovoked and random killing.”
(Edited by Gitanjali Das)
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