Who sent the wedding gift bomb that killed this newlywed?

Who sent the wedding gift bomb that killed this newlywed?

A “wedding bomb” that killed a newly-married software engineer and left his wife grievously wounded has shattered the peace of a small town in India. Nearly a month after the incident, the police have made no headway. Soutik Biswas travels to the eastern state of Orissa to piece together the story of a killing that has riveted India.

On a bright summer afternoon on 23 February, five days after their marriage, Soumya Sekhar Sahu, a 26-year-old software engineer, and his 22-year-old wife Reema, were pottering around in the kitchen at his newly-built family home in Patnagarh, a drowsy, nondescript town in Orissa.

They were planning to grill eggplant and make some lentil soup for lunch when Soumya heard the clanging of the latch of their metal gate. A delivery man stood outside, holding a parcel addressed to him.

A fraying sticker on the box said it had been sent by SK Sharma from Raipur, some 230km (142 miles) away.

Reema remembers her husband opening the box in the kitchen, and finding a parcel covered in green paper with a white thread sticking out of it, while his 85-year-old grand-aunt Jemamani Sahu came up from behind to see what the parcel contained.

‘Surprise gift’

“This looks like a wedding gift,” Soumya Sekhar told his wife. “The only thing that I don’t know is the sender. I don’t know anyone in Raipur.”

As he pulled the thread, there was a flash of light and a huge explosion rocked the kitchen. The three were knocked off their feet, and collapsed on the tiled floor, bleeding profusely. The blast had ripped the plaster off the ceiling, blown apart the water purifier, sent the kitchen window flying into an adjacent field, and cracked the green painted walls.

The three writhed in pain on the blood-splattered floor. Jeemamani Sahu was on fire. “Save me. I think I am dying,” Soumya Sekhar groaned before losing consciousness.

That was the last time Reema heard her husband speak.

The burns stung her face and arms. With smoke filling her lungs, she struggled to breathe. Her eardrum had punctured, so she barely heard the hum of panicky neighbours rushing in and asking whether the cooking gas cylinder had exploded. Her vision was blurring as debris clogged her eyes.

Still Reema managed to crawl to the bedroom, and pick up the phone to call her mother-in-law, a principal in a local college. She passed out before she could make the call.

Video footage from the house minutes after the blast shows distraught neighbours carrying away the three wounded residents in bed-sheets to a waiting ambulance. Soumya Sekhar and Jemamani Sahu, who both suffered from 90% burns, died as they were being moved to hospital. Reema is recovering slowly in a cramped room in the burns ward in a government hospital.

More than a month after the horrific murder, no one appears to have the faintest idea who killed Soumya Sekhar, described as a “genial and god fearing young man who worshipped a guru” by relatives and friends.

“We are simple people with simple lives. I have no enemies. My daughter has no enemies. My son-in-law had no enemies. I don’t suspect anybody, and I don’t know who could have done this,” Sudam Charan Sahu, Reema’s father, told me.

Their families had introduced them, and the two had been engaged for a little more than a year. Reema’s father, a garments trader, adopted her from his younger brother because he wanted a daughter after his two sons, and his brother had three daughters. The cheerful and pretty girl went to a local college and graduated with an Oriya language degree.

Soumya Sekhar’s parents were both college teachers – his father taught zoology. He had studied computer science and worked with info-tech companies in Mysore and Chandigarh, before joining a Japanese electronics firm in Bangalore two months ago.

“They met a few times before the marriage in presence of their families. They were a happy couple. Why would someone want to kill him?” Soumya Sekhar’s father, Rabindra Kumar Sahu, 57, said.

The only indication of something amiss seems to be one mysterious call that Soumya Sekhar received when he was in Bangalore.

“The call came last year,” Reema told me. “We were talking on the phone, and he said there was a call coming in. And I vaguely remember he put me on hold, and later told me, ‘I got a threatening call. A man on the line told me not to marry.'”

He didn’t mention any more calls, and by the time the marriage happened, “we had completely forgotten about the call”.

Two dozen investigators have questioned more than 100 people – friends and relatives of the couple mainly – in four cities in connection with the killing. They have scoured mobile phone records, and scanned laptops and phones belonging to the couple.

Hopes were raised when cyber sleuths found the parcel had been tracked online twice from a private computer institute in Kalahandi district, some 119km away, leading to speculation that the killer may have been following it. But eventually they found it was the courier company itself that had been tracking the consignment.

Crude bomb?

The only thing the police know for sure is that the parcel was sent from Raipur, under a false name and address. The killer, who paid 400 rupees ($6.14; £4.35) for the delivery, had chosen the courier company carefully: there were no CCTV cameras in their office, and the parcel was not scanned.

The parcel then made a 650km journey on three buses and passed through four pairs of hands before reaching Patangarh on 20 February. The delivery man made a run the same evening to Soumya Sekhar’s residence, but returned without delivering the package because “he saw a big marriage reception going on at the place”, Dilip Kumar Das, the local manager of the courier company, explained. Three days later, the man finally delivered the parcel at the gate.

Forensic experts are still trying to ascertain how sophisticated the bomb was. On the face of it, investigators say, it appeared to be a fairly crude device wrapped in jute thread which spewed white smoke after the blast.

The lack of strong leads means that the investigators are contemplating several motives behind the killing.

Was it the work of a spurned or scorned lover? The police still have no clue, but say they are investigating why Soumya Sekhar deleted his Facebook account weeks before his marriage and opened a new one.

Was the killing related to a property dispute in the Sahu family, where Soumya Sekhar was the only son and the natural heir? Investigators say they need to question more family members before coming to any conclusions.

Did the murder have anything to do with a feud that Reema had in her secondary school, when a classmate harassed her and her parents had to lodge a complaint with the principal? It seems highly unlikely because the incident happened nearly six years ago.

Also, how did the sender of the bomb manage to get his hands on an explosive and pack and send it to the target so easily? Was it a contract killing? “This is a fiendishly complex case,” Balangir’s senior police official Sashi Bhusan Satpathy said. “This was the work of a fairly knowledgeable person well-versed in the arts of bomb making.”

Reema is still in hospital, and her tragedy became a spectacle on Monday when a family member whipped out his mobile phone and recorded her breaking down after she discovered from an old newspaper in her room that her husband had been killed in the blast. For nearly three weeks, her family hadn’t broken the news to her. Now, she was crying inconsolably.

“You lied to me, you didn’t tell me the truth,” she wailed at her father, as he broke down. By the evening, the video of this private moment of grief was showing on local TV.

“We thought maybe this would move the government to step up the investigation and arrest the culprit soon,” her father said.

“That’s all we want.”

Syria war: Rebel evacuations from Eastern Ghouta gather pace

Syria war: Rebel evacuations from Eastern Ghouta gather pace

Syrian rebel groups have pulled out of more towns in the Eastern Ghouta, as the government tightens it grip on the enclave outside Damascus.

Buses carrying fighters, their families and others left the area late on Saturday, leaving the city of Douma as the last rebel-held stronghold.

The evacuations followed a deal between government forces and a local rebel group, Faylaq al-Rahman.

About 70% of the Eastern Ghouta is now under government control.

Hundreds of people have been killed since Syrian government forces, supported by the Russian military, launched an offensive on the rebel-held territory last month.

In recent weeks, they have cut the Eastern Ghouta into three separate pockets, forcing rebels to negotiate withdrawals.

Saturday’s evacuations from the towns of Zamalka, Arbin and Ain Tarma had been due to start in the morning but buses only arrived in the afternoon.

Footage showed the buses queuing at a crossing point into the enclave before travelling along a route cleared of wreckage and unexploded shells and mines.

Under the agreement between government forces and Faylaq al-Rahman, the evacuees will be driven to opposition-held territory in Idlib province. Further withdrawals are expected to take place on Sunday.

Negotiations with another rebel group, Jaish al-Islam, about the surrender of Douma are understood to be continuing.

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Syrian state TV broadcast pictures of troops moving into towns abandoned by rebels, highlighting trenches and other fortifications left behind.

It also showed prisoners released by the rebels being loaded into minibuses.

Another deal struck last week saw thousands of people evacuated from the town of Harasta on Friday.

The rebels in Eastern Ghouta encompass multiple factions, including jihadists, and in-fighting between them has led to losses of ground to the Syrian government.

The two largest groups are Jaish al-Islam and its rival, Faylaq al-Rahman.

The Eastern Ghouta is so close to Damascus that rebels have been able to fire mortars into the heart of the capital, leading to scores of civilian deaths.

Rebel rocket fire reportedly killed a young Syrian footballer and wounded seven others as they were training in Damascus on Saturday.

Earth Hour: Lights off to preserve the planet's environment

Earth Hour: Lights off to preserve the planet's environment

The world’s most famous landmarks are plunged into darkness for one hour every year.

The global Earth Hour campaign, which started in 2013, raises awareness about the impacts of climate change, and is observed by millions of supporters in 187 countries, according to organisers.

Here are some major sites across the globe that dimmed their lights on Saturday 24 March 2018.

Sydney, Australia – Harbour Bridge and Opera House

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During

Beijing, China – National Stadium (the “Bird’s Nest”)

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During

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia – Petronas Towers

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During

Taipei, Taiwan – Taipei 101

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During

Singapore – Supertrees at Gardens by the Bay

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During

New Delhi, India – India Gate

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During

Moscow, Russia – Christ the Saviour Cathedral

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Rome, Italy – Colosseum

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Athens, Greece – Parthenon temple

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Most wanted Roy Lawrence Piechocki arrested in Bulgaria

Most wanted Roy Lawrence Piechocki arrested in Bulgaria

A British man wanted by police for seven years has been arrested in Bulgaria, authorities say.

Roy Lawrence Piechocki, 56, has been wanted by Interpol since 2011 for 10 counts of sexually exploiting a minor in the United States.

Piechocki, from Hillingdon in west London, was arrested after being found in a rented flat in a block in Veliko Tarnovo, police said.

He is now being held in the local police detention centre.

The Ministry of Interior said it was the result of a two-month investigation that was a joint effort between local police, the Bulgarian special cybercrime unit and the FBI.

Piechocki had fake identity papers and had altered his appearance, police said.

Bulgarian police also confiscated three computer devices, which they say contained pornographic images of young children.

In pictures – US rallies and around world

In pictures - US rallies and around world

Hundreds of thousands of people are joining rallies across the US and beyond to call for stricter US gun laws in the wake of a school shooting that left 17 people dead.

Student survivors from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida have revitalised the nation’s gun control debate after an attack on their school on 14 February.

They are spearheading the March for Our Lives campaign, which is holding events in some 800 cities in the US and around the world.

Washington, DC

New York City

Paris, France

London, UK

Berlin, Germany

Sao Paulo, Brazil