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Two more arrested for Lankesh murder, cops say close to cracking plot to kill rationalists

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One of the two new suspects is believed to be the key to finding the weapon used to kill the journalist as well as professor M.M. Kalburgi.

Bengaluru: The special investigation team (SIT) looking into the murder of journalist Gauri Lankesh has arrested two more suspects, and are now probing their possible links with the killings of three other rationalists, Dr M.M. Kalburgi, Govind Pansare and Narendra Dabholkar.

A lower court has remanded the two accused, Amit Baddi and Ganesh Miski, to 14-day police custody.

The special public prosecutor S.V. Vadavadagi told the court that the police have found that Miski and Baddi allegedly aided in the killing of Lankesh.

The SIT is also believed to have stumbled upon critical information that could help solve the three murders.

The team has already established that the weapon used to kill Lankesh in September last year was the same one Kalburgi was shot with in August 2015 in Dharwad, Karnataka. One of the two new suspects arrested is believed to be the key to finding the weapon.

Baddi, a small-time businessman-goldsmith from Hubli, was nabbed after the interrogation of one of the other seven suspects in custody, Mohan Naik, who reportedly revealed his role in the conspiracy. Police, however, are yet to confirm Baddi’s role and links to the core team.

Miski, also a resident of Hubli, runs a family business centred on incense sticks. He was kept under surveillance, following which police traced his calls to the alleged mastermind of the Lankesh murder, Amol Kale.

Police believe Miski will turn out to be an important link in the case. Sources close to the investigation say that Miski is the alleged bike rider who accompanied Parshuram Waghmore, believed to have pulled the trigger on Lankesh, when they reached her house to kill her. Sources also said that police are investigating if Miski was the one who shot dead Kalburgi.

The other alleged conspirators in the Lankesh case have been identified as Sujeet Kumar, K.T. Naveen Kumar, Parushuram Waghmore, Manohar Edave , and Amit Degwekar. These five, along with Kale and Naik, are suspected to be directly involved in the murders of Kalburgi, Pansare and Dabholkar. Many of the suspects were first arrested in connection with a conspiracy to kill another rationalist-writer K.S. Bhagwan.

The suspects arrested so far:

  1. Amol Kale:  A Pune-based engineer, he is also known as ‘bhaisaab’ and is the alleged mastermind of Lankesh’s murder. He is said to be a hardcore Hindutva believer and would meet like-minded people during religious meetings to recruit them. His one-point agenda was to reportedly ensure that those he identified were willing to “take up arms to save Hindutva”.

He reportedly ensured that those working with him did not know his real name or whereabouts, and he communicated through public phones or meetings in person.

When they nabbed him, the SIT also recovered a diary that listed their targets, including Lankesh. Most of the other entries were in code, posing a huge challenge for police.

  1. Parshuram Waghmore: The SIT believes he is the man who pulled the trigger on Lankesh. Waghmore was reportedly trained to use a gun by Kale and one other person, who police believe is the main arms trainer for the entire core group. During interrogation, Waghmore allegedly confessed, saying he followed Kale’s orders. He used to run a steel utensils shop in Sindagi. The Sri Ram Sene follower was arrested in 2012 for allegedly hoisting Pakistan’s national flag outside the tehsildar’s office to create communal tension.
  2. K.T. Naveen Kumar: He was the first of the lot to be arrested. However, it was not for the Lankesh case, but for allegedly transporting an illegal firearm and 15.32 calibre bullets. It was during his interrogation that Naveen allegedly revealed that he was tasked with the responsibility to target rationalist and noted writer K.S. Bhagwan.
  1. Sujeet Kumar: This ITI diploma-holder from Shikaripura is believed to be a recruiter. Sujeet’s responsibility reportedly lay in identifying individuals ready to “kill to save Hindutva” and bringing them in contact with Kale. Sujeet was arrested along with Naveen Kumar as part of the illegal arms ring. During interrogation, Naveen allegedly confessed that Sujeet had approached him with a request for guns and ammunition. He is believed to be a part of Kale’s core team.
  1. Manohar Edave: A businessman dealing in fertilisers, Edave hails from Bijapur and is also believed to be a part of the core team. He was also reportedly tasked with recruitment. In the Lankesh case, his alleged responsibility was to find out more about the journalist and conduct a detailed reconnaissance of her house in Bengaluru’s Rajarajeshwarinagar.
  1. Amit Degwekar: He is the first link police have found between the murder and the Goa-based radical outfit, Sanathan Sanstha. A resident of Ponda in Goa, Degwekar is on the editorial board of Sanstha’s mouthpiece Sanathan Prabhat. He was arrested in May.  SIT sources said Kale discussed the plan to eliminate Lankesh with Degwekar and asked him to start looking for people who can do the job.
  2. Mohan Naik: Another crucial link in the case, Naik runs an ayurveda clinic in Kumbalgodu. His association with Right-wing organisations brought him in direct contact with Kale, and the two had been in touch since 2016. Police say they have evidence to prove that the core team, including Kale and Dada alias Nihal (yet to be caught), stayed at Naik’s house before the murder. Naik reportedly provided the suspects a place that allowed them easy to Lankesh’s residence.

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