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Accidental explosion terrorism plans

Police believe two men killed in an explosion in Kanpur had links to a militant group and were planning a terror attack.

NEW DELHI // After Bhupendra Singh Chopra and Rajeev Mishra were killed in an explosion in the north Indian city of Kanpur on Aug 24, police and forensic scientists confirmed the two had died while building bombs in a room full of explosive-making materials. Police now believe the pair may have been planning a terror attack after investigations revealed the two Hindu men had links with the Bajrang Dal (Lightning Force), the militant wing of Viswa Hindu Parishad (VHP), which is known for its offensives against minority Muslims and Christians across the country.

Inside Mishra's room, where the explosion took place, police found 3kg of lead oxide, 1kg of red lead, 1kg of potassium nitrate, 11 grenades, several bomb pins, electronic timers and battery cells, said S N Singh, the inspector general of police in Kanpur zone, who added the discovery "revealed a plan for massive terror attacks". Since most Hindus blame Muslim terrorist groups for recent attacks on Hindu temples, police believe Chopra and Mishra are Bajrang men and were making the bombs for "revenge" attacks against Muslims - perhaps in a crowded mosque.

On analysis of mobile phones belonging to the men, police tracked down two Bajrang brothers, Sunil and Subodh Dikshit, who were in constant touch with Chopra and Mishra until they died. As the brothers are not co-operating with police, the two will undergo a brain-mapping test - Brain Electrical Oscillation Signature - in Mumbai to try and find out the suspected Hindu group's role in the planned terror attacks.

It is the first time Hindu terror suspects have been subjected to such tests. Police records reveal Chopra, a former Bajrang Dal convener, and the two brothers led attacks against Muslims during 1992-1993 riots following the destruction of the 16th-century Babri Mosque in north India. However, despite police identifying Chopra as a key bombmaker who was using Mishra as his technical assistant, Bajrang Dal spokesmen said the Hindu group has no connection with bombs.

Prakash Sharma, the National convener of Bajrang Dal and a Kanpur-based lawyer, said he knew Chopra and the Dikshit brothers since they were his clients in "framed" cases of rioting, but they were not active members. "The state [local] and central [federal] governments are doing it wrong by defaming Bajrang Dal. Everyone knows that we [Bajrang Dal members] do everything in the nation's interest, and none of our Hindu groups is involved in any underground activity," Mr Sharma said.

Shadaab Khan, an editor at the newspaper Sangam Jyoti, said Chopra was a hard-core criminal and had at least seven criminal cases pending in Kanpur court. "Since he was of militant character and an expert bombmaker, Chopra was being actively used by Bajrang Dal in all of its activities. He became a high-profile member in the group. Now since it has come to light that he was also involved in terrorist activities, Bajrang Dal is trying to disown him in an attempt to save the organisation from being banned [by the court]," Mr Khan said.

"But, Bajrang Dal being caught in making bombs which were ? meant for use against Muslims is not sensational news to us after we have seen the Gujarat riots in which they killed Muslims in front of the police." In 2002, Gujarat riots saw the killing of about 2,000 people, mostly Muslims. Many secular organisations, political parties and Muslim groups have long demanded banning Bajrang Dal, which has also launched attacks against Christians in India. In 1999, Bajrang men killed Australian missionary Graham Steins and his two young children in Orissa state.

Many Bajrang Dal leaders who fashion themselves as "vigilantes", protecting "Hindu pride and Hindu nationalism", believe India is a Hindu country and consider followers of Islam and Christianity outsiders. Analysts believe Bajrang Dal and its offshoot groups have been involved in militant activities against minorities for almost two decades. Teesta Setalvad, a human rights campaigner and the editor of Communalism Combat, said Bajrang Dal and VHP both should be banned for their "terrorist activities across the country".

"Bajrang Dal have been involved in terrorist activities for quite a long time. In April 2006, four Bajrang Dal activists died in Nanded while a bomb they were making inside a senior Hindu leader's house exploded accidentally. There is a mountain of evidence in the Nanded case and also in some other cases to prove that they have been functioning like terrorist outfits," Ms Setalvad said. But many believe it is difficult to get Bajrang Dal or any other Hindu group banned.

"Whichever party is in power in New Delhi must care to protect the Hindu interest because it is a Hindu majority country," said Shabbir Husain, a Muslim community leader in Aligarh. "As long as majority Hindus think Bajrang Dal is looking after Hindu interest, no ruling party, however it cares for minority interests, can ban this fascist Hindu party. All Muslims and Christians know that truth very well."

* The National