USABA was the genesis of the Indian Mujahideen,and common gulel (slingshot) the route to his bombmaking. This is among the disclosures made by captured IM co-founder Yasin Bhatkal to his interrogators. Their report on Bhatkal reveals a man struggling since he was very young with religion,having constant run-ins with his family,being indoctrinated by a puritanical stream,seeking a jehad path distinctly his own,and remaining firm to his beliefs. He continues to believe Muslim armies will invade the Indian subcontinent one day and successfully establish Islamic law there.
The story of the IMs bombmaker,in his own words:
It was after a long wait for a child that Yasin was born on January 15,1983,to Zarar Siddibappa and Rehana in Bhatkal. However,soon after he entered adolescence,there was constant tension between him and his businessman father. I had a difficult relationship with my father since my childhood. I never accepted his views on Islam,which predominately represented the Tablighi Jamaat thought and preaching. My orientation towards Alh-e-Hadith was partly because of readings of literature available in my house and partly from my associations with people, Yasin says.
The Tablighi thought is to work at spiritual reformation starting from the grass-roots,reaching out to Muslims across all social and economic spectra to bring them closer to Islam. Ahl-e-Hadith believes in a more pristine teaching of Islam.
The Muslims of Bhatkal are largely prosperous and so was Yasins family. According to him,the turning point was when the family went for Haj when he was 12. That was the first time he argued with his father,over his criticism of Hajjis travelling in vehicles. While Zarar believed Hajjis should shun any luxury on this pilgrimage,Yasin disagreed. In days to come. our disagreements widened, he says,though not giving any specific instances.
Over the next five years,Yasin grew increasingly more radical. He explains it as a fallout of seeing several communal clashes in Karnataka where Muslims would be the worst affected.
Yasin says this accompanied his disenchantment with formal education imparted in schools. According to him,such education dampens the spirit and the quest for independent thinking. So I developed perennial abhorrence towards formal studies.
Thats despite having been always good in academics,claims the 30-year-old. Yasin studied first at the Anjuman School in Bhatkal and then at the English-medium Nownihal Siddi School. Later,he joined the Islamia Anglo Urdu High School. In 2000,he dropped out after Class IX. Those days,I was more fascinated by the Quran and other related literature, Yasin recalls.
Then 17 years old,he fell more and more under the influence of the Ahl-e-Hadith and,especially,Moulana Shish,a cleric from Bhatkal,who is currently reported to be in a Middle-East country. Interrogators say his religious discourses with Shishhe calls it a discussion on differenceswere instrumental in bringing Yasin close to the Salafi movement,a school of thought which surfaced in the second half of the 19th century as a reaction to the spread of European ideas.
Shish told Yasin that the way he interpreted Islam was not correct,making his deep-rooted belief about his father being wrong stronger. I converted to Ahl-e-Hadith. I started observing all its practices,including visual indicators like letting my beard grow,wearing salwars that ended above my ankles and performing my prayers differently, Yasin told interrogators. He admits this made him a butt of jokes. I was made fun of not only by my family members but also friends and neighbours, Yasin says.
Shish is also believed to have indoctrinated Yasin by showing him videos and literature on the persecution of Muslims in India.
Disenchanted completely with studies and struggling to find his religious identity by now,18-year-old Yasin left for Mumbai in 2001,taking Rs 5,000 from his mother to try his luck in business. His family owned an ancestral building known as Siddibappa Kholi in the citys Bhendi Bazaar. After a week,Yasin came back to Bhatkal and took another Rs 5,000 to start a garment business. He would buy clothes from Mumbai and sell these at Bhatkal.
Initially I ran into losses,however,my business picked up slowly, he says. I earned some good money and purchased gifts for my family members. However,his father was still not happy and stressed that he should concentrate on studies.
Around the same time,Yasin says,SIMI (the Students Islamic Movement of India) was banned by the Central government. He was disturbed by this,he says,seeing it as harassment of Muslim youth.
Towards the end of 2001,Yasin changed his line of business,and began supplying dates from Mumbai to Bhatkal during Ramzan. However,the business ran into losses,forcing him to quit. Yasin then came back to Bhatkal and started an Unani perfumery and naturopathy clinic,named Almohtasham. Mentor Maulana Shish was his business partner in this venture.
The location of the perfume shop would prove to be another turning point in Yasins life. It was situated next to the Anjuman Engineering College,and would soon became popular among the students there,including a certain Fasih Mahmood.
The shop used to be frequented by students like Mahmood and others,and it was a good blend of local and outstation boys. The group would discuss jehad till late in the night and offer namaz together,fostering a close relationship. Maulana Shish was one of the main attractions as his profound grasp over Islam was enthralling and inspiring, claims Yasin.
Mahmood would also go on to be charged in a string of terror attacks involving the IM. Last year,he was deported from Saudi Arabia and is currently in judicial custody.
As Yasin became popular among the Anjuman College students and struck up a friendship with many of them,he was taken to Mumbai by Shish in early 2003,this time with the promise of introducing him to the Bhatkal brothers Riyaz and Iqbal Shahbandri,about whom he had heard a lot.
Yasin says he was in search of a true master at the time,struggling as he was with the desire to do jehad but looking for ideas to undertake purposefully.
However,his first encounter with the Bhatkal brothers didnt leave him impressed. I found Iqbal to be greedy and criminal minded. I could not meet Riyaz as,a civil engineer,he was employed at a leading construction firm, Yasin says. Soon after the meeting,he returned to Bhatkal.
In August 2003,Iqbal and Riyaz came to Bhatkal. By that time,Iqbal was wanted for the 2002 Ghatkopar,Mumbai,blast. It was during a meeting with them in the town that a business plan was discussed to start a phone booth facilitating international calls in the town. Yasin says he opposed the business as un-Islamic and refused to join.
Another point of contention was Iqbal buying a motorcycle financed by a local bank. Yasin again called this against his principles,saying Islam forbid taking loans. However,Iqbal justified this,quoting a religious scripture and telling him it was in line with the concept of Maal-e-ghanimat (war booty).
Gradually,Yasin came close to Riyaz,and the anger he had always felt towards what he felt was injustice towards Muslims got channelled into waging war against the country.
During the same time,Riyaz threw a big party where locals from Bhatkal were invited. Iqbal spent a lot of money for this party to celebrate his success in the international call business, says Yasin.
The group would meet at the Azad Nagar mosque in Bhatkal and discuss the condition of Muslims in Bosnia,Kosovo and Chechnya. Riyaz did not just motivate me against Hindu kafirs,but also broadened my vision and world view of Islam, says Yasin.
The next step on the road to jehad for Yasin was the visit to Bhatkal in 2004 of a man from Nadua (in Uttar Pradesh). His name was Master Bashir and soon he became very popular among the locals. According to Yasin,Bashir was a fiery speaker and spewed venom against the Indian government. Bashir taught us to get united and fight against kafirs (including the Hindus,Christians,Jews,Buddhists and so forth) who perpetrated atrocities against Muslims… We all have to come together under one umbrella, Yasin says Bashir always exhorted.
It was on his direction that the Usaba was formed,with Riyaz as its head. Meaning a conglomeration of more than 10 and less than 40 men in Urdu,the Bhatkal Usaba included 15 young men from Karnataka,Uttar Pradesh,Bihar and Maharashtra.
This group started meeting every Friday,where issues like weapons training,finance,talent spotting,spiritual discourse and other matters pertaining to procurement and logistics were discussed. It was after this meeting that Riyaz gave money to Yasin to establish a workshop to improvise weapons,including knives and swords,to be used during communal clashes.
Yasin also claims he received money from one of his friends fathers to set up the workshop. This shop was named Al-Hadith.
In 2004,by when Yasin was completely engaged in the business of manufacturing weapons,Riyaz asked him to go to Pakistan for weapons training. Yasin renewed his passport from the Regional Passport Office,Bangalore,and contacted his father to sponsor his visa. He persuaded his father by telling him that he was willing to join him in Dubai to look for a job there.
My father agreed but put some conditions. He told me to shave off my beard and wear normal clothes (particularly to give up the short salwars) and directed me to desist from observing religious practices as per the Alh-e-Hadith. Since I was desperate to go to Pakistan for training,I agreed, claims Yasin.
He got a job in a construction company in Dubai.
Towards the end of 2005,using the Dubai route,Yasin visited Pakistan for arms training. He was given a code name,Mustafa. During his stay in Pakistan and his 50-day training there,Yasin says he met IM founder Amir Reza Khan. On his return to Dubai after two months,Yasin decided to open a personality development coaching centre.
He soon gave up,Yasin says,and because he found what the centre did for women disconcerting. The training centre was doing very well but I didnt like the work as it involved imparting modern social skills to women,which would make them extrovert to the extent that they were ready to kiss me. This I found un-Islamic, he asserts.
In the middle of 2006,Yasin returned to India,during the same time as multiple blasts were reported in local trains in Mumbai. Yasin claims these were carried out by Riyaz.
Back in Udupi in Karnataka,Yasin was again a witness to communal riots,where he felt Muslims were victimised by Hindu organisations. I decided to protect the Muslim community during riots. I had brought along some samples of gulels (slingshots) from Dubai. I decided to distribute 1,000 gulels among Muslims for their protection.
Yasin travelled to Mumbai to purchase the same and claims to have got these distributed to fellow Muslims. But since there were reportedly some lapses,the gulel plan failed. The funds for the slingshots had been arranged from Dubai.
It was after this,Yasin says,that his bombmaking days began and he was involved in a string of terror attacks,starting with the August 2007 Hyderabad blasts.
If Yasin is to be believed,what makes his jehad journey different is that he has travelled only once to Pakistan,that too for arms training,and that he never intended to settle in Pakistan,unlike mentor Riyaz or Amir Reza. In fact,Yasin is believed to have wanted wife Zahida to join him in Nepal,where he was hiding when the security forces zeroed in on him.
While on the run after the Batla House encounter,most IM members fled to Nepal. Yasin claims that Riyaz,Pune resident Mohsin Choudhary and Iqbal,who were hiding out in Darbhanga in Bihar,were eager to leave for Pakistan and arranged for a man to visit them from Nepal to make their fake passports. The man was probably the conduit for making fake passports. I was not informed about it as I was least interested in moving to Pakistan, claims Yasin.
During the visit of the agent,Yasin says,he was instructed by the others to remain in the kitchen.
I understood that my friends were in the process of going to Pakistan, he says. Later,Yasin agreed to go to Nepal,and the contact reportedly came again after a few days and took photographs of all of them wearing Nepali caps.
We tried our best to change our complexion as we wanted to mingle with the locals, Yasin adds.