Man held for Gauri Lankesh murder; strong links with Kalburgi, Pansare killings

A man has been taken into custody in Bengaluru for interrogation in connection with the killing of journalist and activist Gauri Lankesh by the Special Investigation Team probing the case (See: Protests erupt over Lankesh killing; Karanataka sets up SIT).

Slain journalist and activist Gauri Lankesh  

Deputy Commissioner of Police (Bengaluru West) M N Anucheth, the investigating officer in the case, said K T Naveen Kumar alias Hotte Manja, who was already in judicial remand in connection with another case, was on Friday taken into further custody for eight days.

Kumar, 37, was arrested on 18 February by the Bengaluru Police for illegal possession of cartridges. He has been named as the first accused in the case.

The SIT arrested Kumar, a resident of Maddur in Mandya, after informing a magistrate's court in Bengaluru that it had found evidence of his involvement in the Gauri Lankesh murder in the course of investigation into the illegal arms case for which he was originally arrested.

The SIT sought a warrant for Kumar's arrest in the Gauri Lankesh case citing voluntary statements given by some of Kumar's friends about his links to the Gauri Lankesh murder.

When Kumar was produced before the court of an additional chief metropolitan magistrate, the SIT gave the court a sealed copy of a confessional statement given by him about his involvement in the murder. An assistant public prosecutor, Nirmala Rani, presented a remand plea to the court seeking police custody of Kumar for eight days in order to unearth the larger conspiracy and materials used in the crime.

''At present, only one accused has been named. Others will be added after investigations. This suspect was traced on the basis of CCTV footage,'' said Rani.

Kumar was arrested under the jurisdiction of the Upparpet police station in west Bengaluru on 18 February based on a complaint filed by a crime branch official stating that he was caught with live cartridges in the city bus stand.

The investigations in the Upparpet case show that Kumar, during conversations about guns and ammunition with some of his friends from Maddur, had alluded to his links to the murder of Gauri Lankesh.

Investigations have shown that Kumar is linked to a radical Hindutva outfit called the Hindu Yuva Sena and that he is also allegedly linked to members of the Sanatan Sanstha outfit and its affiliate the Hindu Janajagruti Samiti. He has been found in possession of more than 15 rounds of the cartridges of .32 calibre, which are the similar to 7.65 mm cartridges.

Gauri Lankesh was shot with a 7.65 mm country-made pistol in the driveway of her home in west Bengaluru on the evening of 5 September 2017 by an unidentified man wearing a helmet. Another yet unidentified person drove the getaway motorcycle.

Investigations by the SIT have unearthed CCTV footage of a man conducting a recce of the journalist's home a few hours ahead of her killing. The physical build of the man conducting the recce in the CCTV footage has a close resemblance to that of Kumar.

A forensic analysis of four empty cartridges and the four bullets fired to kill Gauri Lankesh has shown that markings on the bullets and cartridges match with markings found on the bullets and cartridges used to kill the Kannada scholar and researcher M M Kalburgi, 77, in the northern Karnataka town of Dharwad on 30 August 2015. The forensic analysis suggests that Gauri Lankesh and scholar Kalburgi were shot with the same 7.65 mm pistol.

The findings from the comparison of the ballistic evidence from the Gauri Lankesh and Kalburgi cases adds to existing forensic evidence from the shooting of the leftist thinker Govind Pansare, 81, in Kohlapur in Maharashtra on 16 February 2015 where exactly the same 7.65 mm country-made gun used in the Kalburgi murder was found to have been used.

Lankesh (55), was known as an anti-establishment voice with strong anti-right wing views, as were Kalburgi and Pansare.