After all possible leads indicated the involvement of the Indian Mujahideen (IM) in the Dilsukhnagar (Hyderabad) twin blasts on February 21 this year, intelligence agencies stepped up their surveillance to locate Yasin Bhatkal. Soon, Intelligence Bureau (IB) sleuths were able to track a call from Nepal to one of Yasin’s relatives in Karnataka.
What followed in the next six months was monitoring of phone calls from Nepal to various places in India, including Yasin’s native town Bhatkal, where he reportedly spoke to his relatives and accomplices. “The IB relentlessly monitored these calls and got some other crucial leads. We soon managed to locate Yasin, one of India’s top 10 wanted terrorists, who had taken refuge in a small town deep inside Nepal,” a senior Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) official said.
As the IB reportedly flew in some Karnataka cops dealing with terror cases, in which Yasin is allegedly involved, to confirm his identity, back channel operations were also started by the Research & Analysis Wing and the Ministry of External Affairs to ensure that Yasin is brought to India.
Riaz and Iqbal next targets
“As Yasin was not living along the Indo-Nepal border, we had to be extra cautious so that he could not slip away again as he has done in the past. Indian intelligence sleuths were then able to apprehend him along with his close associate Asadullah Akhtar who hails from Azamgarh in Uttar Pradesh… they both were then brought to the international border,”a senior Ministry of External Affairs official said.
Though the Indian intelligence agencies are sure about Yasin’s identity, the National Investigation Agency (NIA) that is dealing with most of the terror cases involving the IM mastermind might go in for a DNA test to conclusively establish his identity. Yasin isthe alleged mastermind behind several blasts in the last few years, including those in Delhi (High Court, September, 2011 and the serial blasts in 2008), Pune (German Bakery), Bangalore (two blast cases), Mumbai triple blast (July, 2011), Ahmedabad , Jaipur and Varanasi.
Sources said that apart from Yasin, the arrest of Asadullah is also of immense importance as he is said to be the IM’s key bomb-maker and expert in planting improvised explosive devices (IEDs). Yasin and Asadullah, who has been absconding since 2008, were running a Unani centre in Nepal, they added.
Confirming that Nepal authorities extended all help to Indian agencies in this operation, Union Minister of State for Home R.P.N. Singh told The Hindu that India has been able to seek cooperation from its neighbours in cracking down on terrorists. “In the past few years we have been getting cooperation from most of our neighbours in our fight against terrorism…We will pursue all terror cases till the end and punish all those who waged war against India. Arrests of [Abdul Karim] Tunda and now [Yasin] Bhatkal are signs of this resolve,” he added.
Underlining the significance of the arrests of Yasin and Asadullah, Mr. Singh said it would give India’s security and intelligence agencies deep insight into the working of the IM and help in nabbing their accomplices and unearth future plots. “Their interrogation will help us break their networks and modules that have been operating in India… if need be, we will seek cooperation from other nations in nabbing other terrorists hiding abroad,” he added.
A senior MHA official said that their next targets were Riyaz and Iqbal, both from Bhatkal in Karnataka, who are reportedly hiding in Pakistan. “These two are other important terrorists from the IM who are running the group since it was formed in 2008. They might now plan attacks to retaliate the arrest of Yasin and Asadullah... Intelligence agencies have been put on alert,” the official added.
Yasin, who was earlier associated with banned outfit Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI), formed the IM in the aftermath of “communal mobilisation caused due to factors like the Babri Masjid demolition incident  and the riots in Gujarat after the Godhra incident ” (according to an NIA chargesheet). Yasin, along with Riyaz Bhatkal and Iqbal Bhatkal, decided to “form a new terrorist organisation called the IM to carry out terrorist attacks in different parts of India with a view to terrorising the Indian citizens, especially the majority community.”
Significantly, the identity of some IM operatives was first disclosed after the Batla House encounter in Delhi in September 2008. “Yasin Bhatkal was trying to escape the clutches of law in the wake of exposure of identities of the operatives of the IM after the Batla House encounter,” the NIA said. Yasin, who is said to have planted bombs in several cases himself, has been caught on close-circuit television at least on three occasions, including the German bakery blast in Pune in 2010 and this year’s blasts at Disukhnagar in Hyderabad. Though Yasin was detained earlier in Kolkata and Mumbai, he managed to get away by concealing his identity.