Police search Indian guru's ashram after arrest

AP News
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Posted: Nov 21, 2014 6:24 AM
Police search Indian guru's ashram after arrest

NEW DELHI (AP) — Indian police on Friday searched the sprawling ashram of a holy man who was arrested on suspicion of murder and criminal conspiracy after a deadly siege at his fortress-like compound.

Sant Rampal, a 63-year-old former engineer, had ignored orders to appear in court for questioning in a 2006 murder case. But when police moved in to arrest him Tuesday, they clashed with thousands of devotees who were packed inside his heavily fortified ashram in northern India.

His supporters said he was too ill to make the 250-kilometer (155-mile) journey from his ashram to the court in Chandigarh, the Haryana state capital.

Some of his followers were armed with rocks, guns and small bags of acid, according to police. By the time of his arrest Wednesday, he faced additional charges related to the siege, including murder, sedition and criminal conspiracy.

At least six people — five women and an 18-month-old child — died during the standoff. Officials were still working to determine the causes of death, police official Anil Kumar said.

About 200 people were injured, including security forces.

Rampal, who says he is the reincarnation of an Indian poet and mystic, is one of many gurus and Hindu holy men who command huge followings in India. The enormous power wielded by self-styled holy men has led to scandals in which some have been accused of exploiting devotees.

S.N. Vashisht, the director-general of state police, said many of the thousands of people holed up with Rampal were held against their will or used as human shields.

About 15,000 of Rampal's supporters were evacuated from the compound. Another 4,000 left the ashram on Thursday as police took over the complex and began searching the area, Vashisht said.