NEW DELHI: A year ago, India's most wanted terrorist Yasin Bhatkal alias Ahmad Zarar Siddibappa was arrested by the intelligence agencies for carrying out a series of blasts across the country since 2007.
Indian Mujahideen, which claimed more than 220 lives since its inception through bomb blasts across the country, grew under his command and had become a threat. So much so, he was considered the most prized catch in the recent times and security agencies fought over sharing information on him. Like his arrest, his chase was also meticulous over a period of three years during which he gave slip to the sleuths many times.
Even when IB caught him from Pokhra in Nepal, he was unperturbed and argued with the sleuths that they were arresting the wrong man. "I am an engineer. You are arresting the wrong man," he had told an IB officer.
He was not just an ordinary catch because he wasn't a foot soldier — like the ones Indian agencies had been catching for years. A motivator, recruiter, expert bomb-maker and mastermind, Yasin had planned a series of blasts across India — in Mumbai, Delhi, Hyderabad, Bangalore, Ahmedabad, Pune and Jaipur over the years.
Yasin Bhatkal (face covered and in blue shirt) after his arrest near the India-Nepal border in Bihar, in 2013.
His arrest in Nepal followed a long human and technical surveillance operation by IB and other agencies. Since March 2013, IB had been tracking him regularly with the help of Bihar sleuths. Even when he was tracked in Pokhra, his identity was confirmed by agents following him while he used to go several kilometres away to make calls to his wife Zahida in Delhi and his beard, which he refused to let go off despite warnings by Riyaz Bhatkal.
His arrest had political ramifications as well — at least for former Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar. While he was caught by a joint team of IB and Bihar police, the latter surprisingly refused his custody. It came as a gift for National Investigation Agency, which was called to take his custody.
One year into his arrest, security officials say a lot has changed with almost all the active Indian Mujahideen modules neutralized or lying low. Intelligence agencies and antiterror units, under the new regime, now have trained their guns on stalking cyber movement, cutting financial and logistical channels of home-grown terror groups. Meanwhile SIMI is trying to raise its head significantly with vast reorganization of cadres.
There have not been many incidents claiming lives of people by extremists motivated to follow Jehad in the name of religion. Since Yasin's arrest on August 28 from Pokhra in Nepal, in a well-coordinated operation by Indian agencies, almost all his deputies like Tehsin Akhtar alias Monu and Waqas have also been caught. Not just Yasin's arrest came as a relief, he turned out to be a goldmine of information for the investigators.
The agencies have not found any direct involvement of any Indian Mujahideen member in a blast since July 7, 2013 Bodhgaya blasts in Bihar. Three attacks — October 27, 2013 attack on Prime Minister Narendra Modi's rally in Patna, May 1, 2014 Chennai train blast and July 11, 2014 attack in Pune — have taken place after Yasin's arrest. While Patna was allegedly the handiwork of Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI), the other two are still being investigated.
Yasin Bhatkal (face covered) after being brought to New Delhi from Bihar after his arrest.
Senior officials in the counterterror agencies say, "We cannot say IM has completely been neutralized after Yasin's arrest but his arrest came as a jolt and its cadres were caught one by one. Yasin had motivated a lot of youth in the outfit since he took over as boss in 2009, close to 50-60, and carried out a large number of attacks. During his custody, he made revelations which helped us (India) to control the activities of IM".
Yasin, who is reportedly named in maximum number of FIRs in past five-six years in the country, has spent most of his one year in the custody of investigation agencies — NIA, Delhi Police, Maharashtra ATS, Karnataka Police or Tihar Jail. During this year, he has kept himself busy taking on agencies either alleging torture in the custody or claiming threat to his life.
He has complained about food, material to read and even behaviour of jail officials. Last month itself, he informed the court that he was being treated 'worse than an animal' in Delhi's Tihar Jail. His lawyer MS Khan had informed that Bhatkal wasn't being provided proper food during Ramzan in Jail number 2. He has been recently shifted in Jail number 1 after the episode.
Native of same town Bhatkal in coastal Karnataka and belonging to a well-off family, Yasin had co-founded of IM along with Riyaz and Iqbal Bhatkal, who have handled all the operations from Pakistan on the directions of Lashkar-e-Taiba and ISI.
Meanwhile, Indian intelligence agencies have been informed by their European counterparts that man detained in Europe is not the co-founder of Indian Mujahideen — Amir Reza Khan. There were reports that Khan had been caught in Europe.
Can someone shed light on who was responsible for leaking news of his arrest too soon ?