Mohammed Ahmed Siddibapa alias Yasin Bhatkal,who was wanted in over two dozen terror cases across India and had dodged security agencies on several occasions,was arrested in Raxaul on the India-Nepal border Thursday.
Also arrested with him was another wanted Indian Mujahideen operative Asadulla Akhtar alias Haddi,who was part of the Azamgarh module. The two,according to sources,were picked up on Wednesday night itself in a joint operation involving the Intelligence Bureau,the National Investigation Agency and the Bihar Police.
After the arrest,Bihar Additional Director General of Police (Headquarters) Ravindra Kumar said: We had information that Yasin Bhatkal and Asadullah Haddi were going to some place in Raxaul to discuss terror plans. The joint team arrested the two at Nahar Chowk of Raxaul. As we had prior information about their presence in the area,an NIA team had reached Motihari and we had also formed a special team to carry out the joint operation.
Bhatkal,it is learnt,had taken shelter in an IM hideout on the India-Nepal border. This area had first been identified by the Darbhanga module,of which Bhatkal was a key founder,and frequented by IM operatives in the past. Local madrasas that have mushroomed in the area are suspected to have given good cover to the likes of Bhatkal. He also had some knowledge of unani medicine and was known as a jadi-buti wala doctor among locals.
Yet,he was not one of those to leave much to chance. He wore a burqa each time he roamed the streets in the area and was always accompanied by people,assumed to be his security cover. While his interrogation has only just started,he is believed to have been in the India-Nepal border area for at least six months now.
The madrasa cover also helped him use his time to spot talent,a task at which he had begun to excel given that almost every IM module after 2007-08 had his imprint. In fact,he is wanted in almost every terror attack in the last six years. What he did successfully was to take advantage of jurisdictional issues among different state police forces to escape arrest.
As a result,he was caught and let off by the Kolkata Police in 2009 in a case of petty theft by calling himself Mohammed Arshad. The local cops did not know his background,particularly that he was wanted for the 2008 Delhi serial blasts. Similarly,he came back to Delhi after the German Bakery attack in Pune,got married under the new identity of Imran,and stayed for about two years while security agencies believed he had fled the country.
Here,the NIAs mandate seemed to have helped. Along with the IB,the agency began to specifically dedicate teams to collate information from different state police authorities and piece them together. It soon emerged that at some point in time,many of the terror-affected states had Bhatkal on phone surveillance.
This provided two crucial patterns – one,it provided agencies a bunch of mobile numbers to work on and then zero in on those whom he was frequently in touch with; and second,it helped them map Bhatkals travel routes and more importantly,identify the places he frequented most.
Bihar showed up quite often and thats how the efforts got targeted. Further tracking with the help of Bihar police indicated that IM operatives had become active along towns on the India-Nepal border. This is how the surveillance gathered pace and eventually it was the IB which took charge of the Nepal-end as it accomplished the task without even getting the Nepalese authorities in the picture.
This was also done because there was some information that Bhatkal may have developed contacts among some Nepalese politicians.
The NIA,which is probing a case of larger conspiracy against IM for its involvement in blasts across India has named Yasin,Amir Reza Khan,Iqbal Bhatkal,Riyaz Bhatkal and nine others in their investigation.
Bhatkals name first cropped up in 2008 when Delhi police raided a flat at Batla House in September that year in which two IM operatives were killed. One of the arrested IM member,Mohammad Saif,told police that a man name Shahrukh supplied explosives for the Delhi blasts. Investigators later found the Shahrukh,who was none other than Yasin,assumed different identities for every operation.
His parents and their extended family,who hail from the coastal town of Bhatkal in Karnataka,are now settled in Dubai and are running a perfume shop. They have always refuted charges against their son and his father Zarar Siddibapa and uncle Yaqui Siddibapa even issued a press statement Thursday.
We are relieved because the truth will come out and our fears that he would be eliminated in a fake encounter have been set to rest. We have complete faith in the judicial process. He should be punished if he is guilty of any offense after the due process of law is followed. The cardinal principle that every person is innocent until proved guilty should be followed, they said.
His family had moved Yasin to Dubai in November 2005 for employment. However,he managed to flee Dubai and return to India in 2007 after being trained to plan terror attacks,working on explosives and setting up self-sufficient modules. Since then,he was part of a string of terror attacks in Ahmedabad,Surat,Bangalore,Pune,Delhi and Hyderabad.
Besides,his role is suspected in the 2010 German bakery blasts,2010 Varanasi bombings,2011 Mumbai serial bombings,2012 Pune bombings,2013 Hyderabad blasts.
Rahul Tripathi & Santosh Singh