When the powerful bombs placed in bicycles rocked Malegaon’s Hamidiya Masjid and Bada Kabrastan on September 8, 2006, the mosque was packed with hundreds of people for Friday prayers during the Shab-e-Baraat, an important festival for the community. The blasts caused a virtual stampede as people rushed out of the mosque in panic, and over 300 people were injured.
Malegaon’s shock turned to anguish when the Maharashtra Anti Terrorism Squad (ATS) made the first arrests including six Malegaon residents, claiming they were linked to the banned Students Islamic Movement in India (SIMI). Malegaon’s ordinary Muslim refused to believe the ATS theory that local Muslims could be involved in maiming their own.
Two years later in September 2008, when another blast rocked Malegaon, angry mobs had brutally attacked the Additional Superintendent of Police, an IPS probationer posted in Malegaon who bravely tried to calm the mob. The pain and anger that a blasts-scarred Malegaon felt poured out a few days later on Eid, when the town saw its largest congregation at the Idgah Maidan in a Hindu-dominated pocket where devotees gather to offer Eid namaaz.
“Muslims die in the blasts, yet suspicion points to them. Educated Muslims are being arrested. The government should prove the charges against those arrested from Malegaon for the September 2006 blasts or release them,” Ismail had said, reflecting what ordinary Malegaon Muslim felt.
The first turning point in Malegaon bombings case came when the invesigations by Maharashtra ATS, then headed by Hemant Karkare, uncovered the role of Hindu right wing organisations first in the Thane and Navi Mumbai blasts case followed by the Malegaon 2008 blasts case. Karkare, who died in the 26/11 terror attacks, was hailed as a hero by Malegaon and a town square was named in memory of the IPS officer.
In 2011, Swami Assemanand’s confession — he subsequently retracted it — that Hindu right wing groups were involved in both Malegaon blasts came as another turning point. In November 2011, eight of the nine accused filed their discharge application. It was only on April 8, 2014 that the NIA informed the MCOCA court in an affidavit that it had no evidence.