NEW DELHI — A special court in India Wednesday acquitted four Hindu activists, including a monk, accused of carrying out deadly blasts in 2007 on the Samjhauta Express — a biweekly train that runs between India and Pakistan.
The blasts, which occurred in the north Indian state of Haryana bordering New Delhi, had killed 68 people, most of whom were Pakistani nationals. The deceased included about a dozen children.
The court said the prosecution was unable to prove the charges against the accused. The acquittal comes in the wake of increased tensions between the two nuclear-armed neighbors after a car bombing killed 40 Indian security forces last month. That attack was claimed by Pakistan-based terrorist group Jaish-e-Muhammad.
Pakistan summoned the Indian High Commissioner to condemn what it termed “Indian duplicity and hypocrisy.” The Pakistani foreign office statement said, “India reflexively levels allegations of terrorism against Pakistan, while protecting with impunity, terrorists who had publicly confessed to their odious crimes.”
The case was the most prominent example of Indian authorities bringing charges against alleged Hindu extremists accused of planning attacks on Muslims.
Those acquitted include Swami Aseemanand, a Hindu monk, charged in two other terrorist blast cases — one on a mosque and the other on a popular Sufi Muslim shrine. He was cleared of charges in those cases in recent years. The monk is a former activist with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, a Hindu nationalist organization that is the parent of India’s ruling party.
Aseemanand had confessed before a magistrate of planning the train bombing and other attacks targeting Muslims, but later recanted and said the confession was made under duress. He had made similar assertions in recorded interviews to the Caravan, a news magazine.
Last week, a Pakistani national — the daughter of one of the victims — had asked the court to allow witnesses from Pakistan to depose before it. Her application said that no proper summons had been sent to the witnesses. The investigating agency opposed the request saying they had sent summons through diplomatic channels on three occasions but had received no response. On Wednesday, the court dismissed her request before pronouncing the verdict.
India’s investigating agency called it a “dreadful terrorist act” carried out with the intent to strike fear “in the people of India and in a foreign country.” Their probe had concluded that the blasts were carried out to avenge attacks on Hindu temples.
R.K. Handa, the prosecutor for the agency said the case relied on witness statements, most of whom later turned hostile. He said the agency would go through the detailed judgment before deciding on appealing the decision in a higher court.