Police in the Mangaluru region of Karnataka are investigating the possible role of a man with a history of crimes, including communally motivated attacks, in the murder of Mohammed Fazil on the night of July 28 in Surathkal.
The gangster under investigation, Lokesh Suvarna Kodikere alias Loku, 38, has over 15 cases against him, including those of murder, and the services of his gang are known to have been hired to execute crimes in the Dakshina Kannada region of Karnataka, as per official crime records for the region.
Mohammed Fazil, 23, was hacked to death by a gang of four masked men on July 28 at the Bee Jay’s clothing store in Surathkal. The murder occurred amid tensions in Dakshina Kannada over the killing of BJP youth leader Praveen Nettaru, 32, in the Bellare village. The murder of Fazil has been viewed as a possible tit-for-tat communal murder.
The people who executed the murder arrived at the crime scene in a white car. An associate of Fazil, who traveled with him to Surathkal on the evening of the murder, has told the police that they were being followed by a white car and a couple of motorcycles. He said he had expressed apprehension to Fazil regarding the vehicles that seemed to be following their scooter on the route to Surathkal from his home at Mangalapete.
CCTV camera footage outside the Bee Jay’s clothing store where the murder occurred captured images of a white car taking a U-turn at a great speed in front of the store just before the attackers appear in the frame to chase Fazil into the store.
Since the murder, the Mangaluru police have tracked down the owner of the white Hyundai Eon car used for transporting the men who killed Fazil based on CCTV footage of the movement of the car to the crime scene and the subsequent escape.
The car, which is registered in the name of the wife of a local resident, Ajit Crasta, was found abandoned in the neighboring Udupi region around 25 km from the crime scene Sunday.
Crasta, who has been arrested by the police, has reportedly stated that the car was rented by a person who was known to him. The police are investigating whether a member of Lokesh Suvarna’s gang had rented the car, sources said. Over 20 people have been questioned in the Fazil murder case so far, according to the Mangaluru police.
Lokesh Suvarna and his gang have a history of carrying out similar kinds of attacks in the Dakshina Kannada region as seen in the case of the Mohammed Fazil murder.
In 2018, Lokesh Suvarna was linked to an attack on Imtiyaz who was among the accused for the 2015 murder of a Bajrang Dal activist Prashant Poojary in Moodbidri by attackers linked to the radical Popular Front of India (PFI).
The case of the 2018 attack on Imtiyaz – at a hotel that he was running in Surathkal – is currently under trial. Lokesh Suvarna and other gang members obtained bail in the case four years ago.
In 2016, Lokesh Suvarna was linked to a case registered in the Mulky area of DK where a man was knocked down by a car that had been following him on NH 66 and the occupants of the car assaulted the victim with clubs after knocking him down. The incident was allegedly linked to prior enmity over a complaint filed against members of the gang by the victim.
In 2009, Lokesh Suvarana was among several accused in an assault in a bar in Surathkal where a man Harish Bhandary was killed. A case of rioting and murder was registered against him and five others for the fight at the Suprabhata Bar and Restaurant.
The rowdy sheeter had over 12 cases against him in the Surathkal and Panambur police stations when he was in his 20s.