Bengaluru: The Karnataka Police Special Investigation Team (SIT) probing the murder of journalist-activist Gauri Lankesh arrested a 37-year-old vegetable farmer who runs a small dhaba in Belagavi on Thursday on charges of playing a central role in the execution of the crime.
According to sources, the SIT’s probe has found that Bharat Kurne alias Tomatar, who allegedly has links to a Hindutva fringe group in Maharashtra, was part of a two-man team which waited in a car for the shooter and an accomplice to finish the murder and drove them away to a safe house on the outskirts of Bengaluru.
With this, 12 people have been arrested in the case. On July 26, the police arrested a man suspected to have provided shelter to Parashuram Waghmare, the suspected shooter.
Unidentified officials said Kurne was one of the two men who waited in a car for the shooter and his accomplice after they had killed Lankesh outside her home in Bengaluru in September 2017. The two were then taken to a safe house on the outskirts of the city, media reported.
Kurne, believed to be a member of a Hindutva group, was produced before the First Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Court that remanded him to judicial custody, The New Indian Express reported. The court directed the investigators to seek permission for police custody from the court of the third additional chief metropolitan magistrate.
The investigators told the court that a farm owned by Kurne was used to train several people recruited by a radical Hindutva outfit in shooting and physical combat. The initial investigation also found that Waghmare had trained at the site. “He [Kurne] has a three-acre land at a remote location in a forest area in Khanapur,” the police statement read. “There, the accused were trained in firing air guns and other firearms.”
The police submitted Kurne’s confessional statement to the court. Kurne was among the four accused who moved into a rented room days before Lankesh was murdered. They vacated the place soon after the murder, the reports said.
Those arrested till now have been identified as 37-year-old KT Naveen Kumar; Sujeet Kumar, 38; Manohar Edave, 29; Amol Kale, 37; Amit Degwekar, 38; 26-year-old Waghmare; Mohan Nayak, 50; Ganesh Miskin, 27; Amit Baddi, 28; Rajesh Bangera, 50; and 37-year-old Suresh Kumar.
A forensic report submitted to a court in Bengaluru said the same gun was used to kill Lankesh and Kannada writer MM Kalburgi, who was assassinated in Dharwad in Karnataka in 2015.