In a major breakthrough, the National Investigation Agency (NIA) has arrested Savad, the first accused in the shocking 2010 hand-chopping case of professor T.J. Joseph. Savad, 38, was apprehended on January 9 from Kannur district where he had been living under the assumed name Shajahan and working as a carpenter.
The arrest comes 13 years after the gruesome attack that shook the state and nation. On July 4, 2010, Islamic extremists belonging to the now-banned Popular Front of India (PFI) hacked off Joseph's right hand while he was returning from church with his family. Joseph, then a professor at Newman College in Thodupuzha, had prepared a question paper for a BCom exam that allegedly contained derogatory references to a religion.
This was cited as the trigger for the chilling assault executed by Savad and six others, allegedly on the instructions of principal conspirator M.K. Nasar.
A prolonged manhunt ensued as Savad went underground after the attack that he had spearheaded. The NIA finally tracked him down to the Beram ward of Mattannur municipality in Kannur, where he had settled with his family. Area residents described him as a very reserved man who seldom mingled with neighbours.
Savad had even travelled abroad briefly during the 13 years evading arrest. The NIA had announced a ₹10 lakh reward last year for information leading to his capture.
Joseph termed the arrest a "victory for the legal system" but stressed that the actual masterminds remain free. Two lengthy trials resulted in the conviction of 19 people under UAPA while Savad absconded. He will now face fresh charges.
The sensational case had sparked outrage nationwide and fuelled concerns over religious tensions and freedom of expression. While Joseph acknowledges this breakthrough, he reiterates his unwavering pursuit of comprehensive justice.
Savad was produced before an NIA court in Kochi and remanded in judicial custody. The trial proceedings against this long-elusive key suspect will be keenly watched as an important milestone in the protracted case.