Vadodara: Even as Gujarat was limping back to normalcy after being targetted by the perpetrators of terror on Saturday, the state was shaken again on Tuesday with the recovery of 18 live bombs in Surat, taking the number of unexploded ammo to 21.
Police officials investigating the serial blasts - which killed 49 people and injured over 200 others - now say Vadodara was where the conspiracy was hatched. They say that the WagonRs stuffed with explosives - which were discovered on Sunday - could be the key to investigations.
The three WagonRs stuffed with explosives, all of which have been traced to Navi Mumbai, were stolen between July 8 to July 15.
Toll tax receipts reveal that the cars were driven from Navi Mumbai to Surat, on the Vadodara-Ahmedabad expressway.
Evidence shows that the people who were driving the cars halted in Vadodara for some time and then went to Ahmedabad for a recce of the blast sites. They returned to Vadodara the same night and then the explosives were packed in.
Next day, the red and the black WagonRs were driven to Surat and while the third WagonR as well as a Maruti 800 were parked at an Ahmedabad hospital.
Of the bombs planted, 16 blew up in Ahmedabad and 18 were found intact in Surat.
The Vadodara Connection
So where does Vadodara fit into this scheme?
Geographically, Vadodara is located between the city of Surat and Ahmedabad. Also, exactly a month ago, the banned Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) had convened a meeting of interstate SIMI representatives in Vadodara.
On June 25, five SIMI activists were detained after a meeting in the house of one Altaf Sheikh in Vadodara's Yakubpura area.
The police say that the stolen WagonRs have entered the city of Vadodara not once but twice. The forged number plates of the two seized WagonRs belong to two Vadodara two-wheelers.
Also, the bombs were wrapped in newspapers with Vadodara datelines. The newspapers were dated May 13, June 11 and June 30, suggesting that Vadodara was the base where the bombs were assembled and that too a month ago.
Sources claim the police have detained an RTO agent from Mumbai in connection with the serial blasts, but it may be Vadodara that now holds the answers that the Gujarat Police is desperately looking for.
Abdul Halim, a suspected member of the outlawed Students Islamic Movment of India (SIMI), arrested in connection with the serial bombings in Ahmedabad was on Monday remanded in 14 days' police custody.
Halim is the first to be arrested in connection and the Crime Branch of the Gujarat Police alleges he is a conspirator in terrorist activities.
He was wanted in connection with the communal violence of 2002 and a case was registered against him in 2003-04. Halim, who was arrested Halim from Danilimda area of Ahmedabad on Sunday, allegedly acted as an operator for a terror outfit and helped send men to Pakistan and Bangladesh for terrorist training.
He was wanted in connection with the communal violence of 2002 and a case was registered against him in 2003-04. Police say they have no evidence to link him with the Ahmedabad blasts, but expect him to provide leads as was allegedly recruiting disgruntled Muslim youth to join jehadi groups.
The police conducted raids in various parts of Ahmedabad and nearly 30 people have been taken into custody so far.
In Tamil Nadu, the police have arrested two suspected terrorists in connection with the blasts in Bangalore and Ahmedabad. Qazi Rahim, 31, and K Abdul Kader, 27, were being taken to Tirunelveli for further questioning.
(With inputs from Shoaib Ahmed in Navi Mumbai)