Indian police say chemist's killing meant to 'strike terror'

They believe murder is linked to anger over anti-Islamic remarks by ex-BJP spokeswoman

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Counterterrorism police in India say they believe the killing of a Hindu chemist was part of a wider plot during weeks of unrest over anti-Islamic comments made by a former ruling party spokeswoman.

Seven Muslim men have been arrested in connection with the murder of Umesh Kolhe, 54, who was stabbed to death while riding his scooter to his home in Amravati in western Maharashtra state on the night of June 21.

Authorities believe he was killed for defending Nupur Sharma, a Bharatiya Janata Party spokeswoman who made derogatory comments about the Prophet Mohammed and his wife Aisha during a debate on a private news channel in May.

The National Investigation Agency, India’s federal investigation agency and primary counterterrorism task force, said the killing was intended to terrorise a certain section of the population.

“The said incident of cold-blooded murder of deceased Umesh Kolhe was an act of larger conspiracy of a group of accused persons and others who have conspired among themselves to strike terror amongst a section of people of India,” the NIA said.

The agency will investigate whether the suspects “attempted to promote enmity on the grounds of religion and thereby commit a terrorist act”, the complaint said.

The incident happened a week before a Hindu tailor, Kanhaiya Lal, was hacked to death, reportedly by two Muslim men who posed as customers, in Udaipur in western Rajasthan state.

One of the men arrested in connection with Kolhe's killing was one of the chemist’s friends, Yusuf Khan.

Kolhe’s brother Mahesh said that Mr Khan, a veterinary surgeon, and his brother were “good friends”.

“Through the police note, we found out that my brother was murdered over his post on Nupur Sharma … He was good friends with Yusuf Khan,” Mahesh Kolhe said.

“We have known him since 2006.

“We are happy that the probe has been handed over to the NIA. We think that the matter will reach its conclusion soon and all the accused will be arrested.”

The killing was initially treated as a case of murder and robbery but on Saturday it was transferred to the NIA by Home Minister Amit Shah. The decision came after the local BJP branch claimed police were trying to cover up the reasons behind the killing.

The BJP, the party of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, on Monday planned to go ahead with hosting a condolence meeting for Kolhe in Amravati despite being denied police permission.

Security was increased in the town before a gathering that is expected to draw about 2,500 people, including members of Hindu right-wing groups.

Ms Sharma’s remarks sparked global condemnation. Gulf nations, including Qatar, Kuwait and the UAE, lodged diplomatic protests over her statements. The remarks also led to street protests in which at least two people were killed.

Mr Modi’s government distanced itself from the controversy and said the remarks came from “fringe elements”. Ms Sharma was suspended from the party.

Since the incident, tension has run high among India’s 200 million Muslims. Many have demanded the arrest of Ms Sharma.

Police in Kolkata on Saturday issued a notice against her for failing to turn up to summons issued by at least two police stations in the city.

Ms Sharma approached the Supreme Court last week to block police cases against her in several states, citing threats to her life.

Her request was rejected by the judges, who said her “loose tongue has set the country on fire” and that she was “single-handedly responsible for what is happening in the country”.

Updated: July 04, 2022, 11:54 AM