The Union Home Ministry on Saturday handed over the probe into the June 21 killing of a pharmacist at Amravati in Maharashtra to the National Investigation Agency (NIA), amid indications that he was killed over a social media post in support of suspended Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) spokesperson Nupur Sharma.
The Ministry, in a tweet, said it had “handed over the investigation of the case relating to the barbaric killing of Shri Umesh Kolhe in Amravati Maharashtra on 21st June to NIA”.
“The conspiracy behind the killing, involvement of organisations and international linkages would be thoroughly investigated,” the Ministry added.
The local police have arrested seven persons, including alleged mastermind Irfan Khan, and seized CCTV footage of the incident.
The other accused have been identified as Muddsir Ahamed, 22, Shahrukh Pathan, 25, Abdul Thoufk, 24, Shoaib Khan, 22, Atib Rashid, 22, and Yousuf Khan Bahadur, 44.
Arti Singh, Commissioner of Police, Amravati City, said Irfan ran an ambulance service and an NGO for the underprivileged members of the Muslim community.
She said Kolhe was killed for forwarding a message in support of Ms. Sharma. “He forwarded the post supporting Ms. Sharma in a WhatsApp group which had one of the accused as a member. The accused forwarded the message to [Irfan] Khan who hatched the entire conspiracy to kill Kolhe to avenge the insult to the Prophet,” Ms. Singh said.
The officer said the police were never treating the case as that of a robbery attempt.
Amravati MP Navneet Rana had alleged that the police were trying to suppress the case by making it appear as a robbery attempt and that it swung into action only after she wrote a letter to Union Home Minister Amit Shah.
However, Ms. Singh said, “The police never registered sections of robbery. It was a blind case. His family told us that he never received any threat, we analysed his phone, didn’t find any such message that he was being threatened with life. We were exploring all angles and it is us [Amravati police] that has arrested all the seven accused.”
The officer said that it was Irfan who planned and motivated the other accused to commit the crime.
“They used a Chinese knife to stab Kolhe in the neck. We are investigating if they received any training for such an act,” she said.
The officer said the case was yet to be transferred to the NIA but the police had not found any international links so far.
“Today we are able to officially confirm the motive behind the case, investigation takes time. We had clues but we had to exclude all other angles in wake of a possible law and order situation that could have emerged. We never delayed the arrests,” she said.
The Amravati case was reported a week before the Udaipur incident in which Kanhaiya Lal, a 40-year-old tailor, was beheaded by two persons on June 28. The killers filmed the act on a mobile phone and posted it on several WhatsApp groups.
Kanhaiya Lal had shared posts in support of Ms. Sharma, who had made offensive remarks against Prophet Muhammed during a television debate in May. The NIA is also probing the Udaipur case.
Kolhe, a veterinary pharamacist, was stabbed in the neck while he was returning from work on his scooter around 10.30 p.m. on June 21.
His son Sanket Kolhe, who was following him on another motorcycle, told the police that two men stopped his father’s scooter and stabbed him on the neck. A third accused came on a motorcycle and the trio fled.
Mr. Sanket said in his complaint that he rushed to help his father who succumbed to his injuries at the hospital.
The police said they have seized the knife used in the incident.
After the Udaipur incident came to light, the local BJP members met the Amravati Police Commissioner and expressed suspicion that Kolhe may have been killed for his social media posts in support of Ms. Sharma.
The police earlier suspected the case to be that of a robbery or contract killing, but Kohle’s family told the police that a bag containing cash was left untouched by the killers at the scene of the crime.