Arrest of cleric by Gujarat police shocks madrassas


Hyderabad : The arrest of a cleric from an Islamic seminary here in connection with the 2003 murder of former Gujarat home minister Haren Pandya has sent shock waves among Islamic religious institutions here.

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A meeting of clerics was called Sunday to discuss the situation and chalk out the future course of action to prevent the arrests. Amid reports of Gujarat police planning to arrest some more madrassa teachers, the meeting, called by an Urdu daily, will consider legal options.

A team of Gujarat police Saturday arrested Moulana Hafiz Ashraf Ali, head of Sabeel-ul-Falah in Barkas neighbourhood in the Muslim-majority old city and shifted him to Ahmedabad.

Madrassa students said a team of policemen asked Moulana to accompany them saying they wanted to question him regarding last month's bomb blast at the historic Mecca Masjid here.

The entire operation was kept a secret and it was only late Saturday that some police officers here revealed that the cleric was arrested and taken to Ahmedabad by Gujarat police. He had allegedly given shelter to Mufti Sufian Patangia and Sohail Khan, the two absconders in the Pandya case.

He is the second cleric from Hyderabad to be arrested by Gujarat police in the Pandya case. In 2004, Moulana Naseeruddin was arrested by the Gujarat police. A youth was also killed in firing by a Gujarat police official when followers of the cleric tried to resist their attempt to take him to Gujarat.

A total of 18 people from Hyderabad and surrounding towns have been arrested by the Gujarat police during the last three years in connection with the Pandya murder and on charges of waging a war against the nation.

Moulana Ashraf Ali was arrested five days after a POTA (Prevention of Terrorism (Prevention) Act) court in Ahmedabad delivered the verdict in Pandya murder case. Of the 12 accused sentenced by the court, three were from Andhra Pradesh. They include Asghar Ali, the prime accused who was sentenced to imprisonment till his natural death. Two other men were sentenced to seven years on charges of terrorism.

The arrest of the cleric has evoked widespread condemnation from different sections of the Muslim community.

Eminent religious scholar and president of Deeni Madaris Board, Andhra Pradesh, Moulana Khalid Saifullah Rahmani claimed that the arrest was made without any evidence and was an attempt to malign madrassas. "The Gujarat police are notorious for repression and foisting false cases against innocent Muslims," he said.

Hyderabad MP and Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (MIM) leader Asaduddin Owaisi took strong exception to the cooperation extended by Hyderabad police in arresting Moulana Ashraf Ali.

"How long will the Hyderabad police continue to send Hyderabadi Muslim youth to Gujarat jails," asked Owaisi.

The MIM leader pointed out that Hyderabad police had also cooperated with their Gujarat counterparts in kidnapping Sohrabuddin Sheikh and his wife from a bus in November 2005. Sheikh and his wife were later allegedly killed in Ahmedabad in a staged gun battle.

A top CID official from Gujarat had visited Hyderabad in May to question some police officials here in connection with the fake encounter case.