Rarely had Indian intelligence agencies come across a man as clever and resourceful as Yasin Bhatkal, believed to be the mastermind behind over 10 terror attacks.
Grainy images collected from CCTV cameras after the German Bakery blasts in Pune in February 2010 show a man, suspected to be Bhatkal, planting a backpack full of explosives and walking out.
While intelligence agencies could not identify him positively, they knew Bhatkal liked to personally plant the bombs he would set off. In the July 2011 triple bombings in Mumbai, Bhatkal was again alleged to have been personally involved in terror activities with Asadullah Akhtar, his comrade from Azamgarh in Uttar Pradesh.
When it came to ingenuity and initiative, few could rival Bhatkal, who practically revived the Indian Mujahideen after the Delhi police broke up the Azamgarh module following the raid at the Batla House in Okhla in September 2008.
It was left to Bhatkal to pick up the pieces and start raising another team that would be known in intelligence circles as the ‘Darbhanga module’.
Much of Bhatkal’s initial indoctrination is credited to two brothers from the same coastal town Riyaz and Iqbal Ismail Shahbandri, commonly known as the Bhatkal brothers, who were his seniors in school.
They were originally part of the Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI), but were believed to have been unhappy with the moderate nature of the movement. They broke away, along with several boys from Bihar, who had come to Bhatkal to study at the local engineering college.
Together, they formed the Indian Mujahideen (IM) with the avowed aim to extract vengeance for perceived wrongs against the community.
Bhatkal proved to be their most dedicated comrade as he learnt about bomb-making, along with other members such as Iqbal Subhan. While Subhan was believed to be behind the Mumbai train bombings of July 2006, Bhatkal slowly made his presence felt in the subsequent bombings.
The August 2012 unsuccessful bombing in Pune is believed to been the first joint operation between the IM and the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT). While Bhatkal led the IM, Fayaz Qagzi is said to have led the LeT module. Qagzi is suspected to be in Saudi Arabia at present.
Tracking Bhatkal proved to be virtually impossible as he avoided using cellphones or the Internet. “He also ensured that the terror modules he created were kept in the dark about each other. So if one module was busted by us, they had no clue about others. The only person they remembered was Yasin Bhatkal,” says a senior intelligence official.
Bhatkal proved to be an elusive target for years. In 2009, he was arrested by the Kolkata police for dealing in fake Indian currency. But the lack of coordination between Delhi and Kolkata ensured that he could escape after posing as a petty thief and a resident of the city.
He then moved to Delhi and took up a job with his future father-in-law’s fabrication factory in Nangloi, Delhi, where he met his wife Zahida. He stayed in the city for almost a year until the police arrested his father-in-law, Irshad Ahmed Khan, in connection with the Meervihar arms factory in the area in 2011.
Bhatkal had given several slips to the police earlier. In 2008, he escaped from Chikamagalur, Karnataka, hours before the police raided his hideout. Again in 2011, he escaped before the Mumbai police could arrest him after the triple bombings. Asadullah Akhtar, who was arrested along with Bhatkal, was equally elusive.
Last year, the anti-terrorism squad of the Maharashtra police was locked in a bitter argument over his whereabouts when he was not even in the country.
Today, his wife’s family is hoping for a quick divorce, now that he is back in India.
“Who would want to continue being married to a person who is always on the run?” says Luqman, 18, Bhatkal’s brother-in-law.
The family refuses to talk about the arrest. “Our father is in jail and we have to strived hard to make both ends meet. It is better to stay away from Yasin and the media,” says Luqman. Bhatkal’s mother-in-law, Mehjabeen Khan, refuses to talk. She lives with her 10 children, including six daughters, at their Shaheen Bagh residence in Delhi.