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Sunday, September 26, 2021

How Yasin Bhatkal became a terrorist

Bhatkal remembers ‘top terrorist’ Yasin as a much-loved son,a teachers’ pet,a good,quiet boy.

Written by Johnson T A |
September 1, 2013 11:44:16 pm

The man now known as Yasin Bhatkal was born to Zarar Siddibappa and Rehana after a long wait. But by the age of 22,the eldest son,the quiet,reserved one Zarar loved dearly,was already slipping away.

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Sometime before he set out on the full-fledged path of jihad around the year 2007,Yasin,then known as Mohammed Ahmed Yasin Siddibappa,had a run-in with father Zarar. The latter tried to dissuade him from the religious path down which he had set off and the company he had started keeping post 9/11.

Related: Yasin Bhatkal’s footprints all over

Despite having been away for over four decades toiling away at a small Dubai business to help his wife and three children live a comfortable life in India,Zarar had in the course of annual visits back home to Bhatkal seen the changes in Yasin.

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Born in 1983,Ahmed dropped out of school in Class X preferring,according to his paternal uncle Yakub Siddibappa—a father figure at their home—to be in the local mosque on a Friday rather in an examination hall in school. A friend from the period,Fasih Mehmood—arrested in Saudi Arabia last year—would later tell investigators that his goal was to fight in Afghanistan.

Related: Yasin Bhatkal wanted in several terror cases

His first argument with Yasin,around 2005,was about this,recalls Zarar,over him wasting his time hanging around local religious radicals. Yasin told Zarar he was not interested in studies and wanted to be in business. “He used to hang out sometimes at my fabrication unit. At home he was considered very special because he was born a long time after his parents’ marriage. Then because he was doing nothing his father decided to take him to Dubai with him,” says Yakub.

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Having gone to Dubai on a visitor visa in 2005,Yasin returned within three months and went back on a work visa sponsored by a sports goods store. According to his family,Yasin came back once more in 2006,before disappearing from Dubai in 2007. Two years later,he would emerge on the Indian Mujahideen and terrorism radar in India.

Zarar says Yasin went missing from their Dubai flat after an argument over his business activities. “The Dubai authorities told us he may have disappeared because one of his cheques might have bounced,” says the 62-year old father.

Related: Indian Mujahideen founder Yasin Bhatkal,another operative arrested by NIA

However,what Zarar had been long afraid of appeared to have come true as his wait for Yasin dragged on.

“In Bhatkal,most of us are followers of the Tablighi Jamaat. But Yasin Ahmed began a slow journey into the more radical Ahle Hadees way of Islamist life. His father,who is a very good and well-respected man,took him to Dubai in the belief that engaging in some business will keep him busy,” says the editor of an online portal on Bhatkal,who did not want to be named.

The inside story of Yasin being sucked into jihad,allegedly leaving over 200 people dead in his wake,is available in bits of information provided by Fasih Mehmood. From Darbhanga in Bihar,Mehmood studied at Anjuman Engineering College in Bhatkal between 2000 and 2006 and is believed to have attended many of the radical meetings that Yasin went to.

According to the narrative provided by Mehmood of his days in Bhatkal,he became good friends with Yasin around late 2002 after they met at religious discourses held at a local Islamic library and organised by a religious teacher identified as Moulana Seer.

“Mohammed Ahmed was very much interested in jihad. He had planned to go to Afghanistan or Yemen to fight the Americans,” a police interrogation report quoting Mehmood following his arrest in 2012 says.

By 2003 some members of the group who attended Moulana Seer’s meetings began moving towards alternate and more radical meetings being organised in the region,in the aftermath of the Gujarat post-Godhra riots,by Iqbal Shahbandri—infamous now as the older brother of Indian Mujahideen man Riyaz Bhatkal.

Mehmood is quoted as talking about this too in his investigation report. “In 2003 Ahmed Yasin was very close to Iqbal and their fellows. Ahmed gradually reduced his visits to Moulana Seer’s shop. When I met Moulana Seer,I told him about the meetings and discussions happening at Iqbal’s residence. He advised me to avoid those people,” he reportedly told investigators.

In 2009,after the first IM network was broken by security agencies,which is believed to have pushed Yasin to the forefront of terrorist activities in India,it was Mehmood he allegedly turned to for help in building a Darbhanga module.

People who have known Yasin from the time he was a little boy are surprised by the dreaded terrorist appendage earned by the obedient boy who was liked all around.

“We knew him as a very,very cool-headed boy. He never spoke angrily against anyone. He hardly mingled with friends and associates,” says Yasin’s uncle Yakub.

While he dropped out in Class X,from Nownihal School in Bhatkal where Yasin studied from Class III to VII,he was a favourite with teachers for his good-boy image. “He was in our first batch and I remember him because he was a disciplined and obedient child. When a child is good,they end up being liked by their teachers. I taught him in other classes too and unlike the other boys,I never saw him fight or get into trouble any time,” says Zarina Kola,Yasin’s teacher at the school.

After he left school,Kola adds,she tried to find out about Yasin from his friends and learnt that he was working at a store. “I never met him after he left,” she says.

Yasin’s brother Abdul Samad,who was mistaken for Yasin and briefly detained by the Maharashtra ATS on his way back from Dubai in 2010,says: “What can I say? He is my brother and I looked up to him. He quit school because he wanted to get into some kind of business. He did try his hand at selling dates. The last I saw him was when he left for Dubai before his disappearance.”

Samad and a younger sister are the family’s main concern these days. While Samad has been unable to get a job on account of the “terror” stigma—he finds his photograph still frequently mixed up with his brother’s—the family is struggling to find a match for Yasin’s sister.

“We are relieved in a way that my brother has been arrested. Otherwise we lived in fear of hearing that he had been killed somewhere. Now we at least know his whereabouts,” says Samad.

In Yasin’s neighbourhood,in the Mugdom Colony where he grew up,Abdul Rashid,a worker in the Gulf like most of Bhatkal’s men,recalls Yasin as being a boy who kept to himself.

“I have known and seen him since he was a toddler. He was a good boy. When he became older,he would get angry if people did wrong things and he would reprimand them. He grew a little rough and tough,but he was still a good kid,” says Rashid.

Hotbed of communal violence

The Bhatkal region where Mohammed Ahmed Yasin Siddibappa grew up was a hotbed of communal violence in the aftermath of the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992. The idyllic port town was hit by violence in the 1992-93 period in clashes between Hindus and Muslims,leaving 20 dead. Muslims are the majority community in the region. A judicial commission headed by Justice Jaganath Shetty concluded that Dawood Ibrahim had a hand in the violence. In 1996,after a lull,communal violence returned when the sitting BJP MLA was shot dead by two gunmen. In the chain of violence that followed,two Muslims were stabbed to death. The cycle of communal violence saw the BJP grab the local parliamentary seat for the first time from the Congress. In 2004 there was fresh violence in the region and a BJP leader,Thimappa Naik,campaigning for the Assembly polls was killed.

The town

120 km from Karwar,Bhatkal was once Uttara Kannada district’s most prosperous town. It is primarily populated by the Nawayath Muslims,a trading community who are of Arab origin. Economic prosperity came to Bhatkal through its links to the Gulf; most of the town’s people built comfortable lives on the remittances that came from there. However,the town has been a tinderbox of communal violence,with major clashes breaking out in the ‘90s. Various political groups have attempted to mix politics and religion,stoking communal passions. “Since 1965,attempts have been made to divide our society by demonising the Muslims,” says Dr Mohammed Hanif Shabab,a prominent citizen of Bhatkal town. Now stuck with the terror tag,Bhatkal’s residents say that the branding is hurting the town. “It’s a town,not the surname of terror suspects,” says a resident.

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