Monday, February 15, 2010

Tracking Riyaz, from Bhatkal to Pune

The day after terror ripped Pune, the needle of suspicion was on Mohsin Chaudhary. Based on further leads, the Intelligence Bureau sources now say Riyaz Bhatkal is equally responsible for the blast. So much so that the police forces of three states -- Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Kerala -- have launched a manhunt for Bhatkal.

Riyaz hails from the coastal town of Karnataka, Bhatkal, which is around 400 km from Bangalore. A dossier on Bhatkal suggests that this man was never serious about jihad and his operations were only driven by money.

Bhatkal was a normal boy till the age of 18. He was never interested in school and dropped out after his seventh standard. He did odd jobs before he decided that needed to make some quick bucks.

Police officers, who dealt with Bhatkal, told that Riyaz was only lured by money and would go to any extent to earn it.

Bhatkal used to his advantage the fact that the place he hailed from was communally sensitive. Sources say for nearly 10 years, Bhatkal acted as a double agent where he passed on information regarding either communities. He was never faithful to any religion and all that mattered to him was money. Apart from this, he also was involved in petty crimes for which he has been arrested several times. However, the same cannot be said about his brother, Iqbal Bhatkal. Iqbal showed tendencies of fanatic nature since day one and he was more associated with the extremist factions.

However, Riyaz got in touch with several of these extremists through his brother and it is from here in 2004 that his journey into the Lashkar-e-Tayiba commenced.

Bhatkal, according to cops, does not fall under the bracket of an ideological terrorist. He falls under the bracket of militia, like an Ajmal Kasab who would undertake an operation mainly for money. His name first cropped up during the attack on the Indian Institute of Science. However, there was no evidence suggesting his role. Interestingly, he acted as a police informant during the time of this attack. He was summoned several times by the Bangalore police seeking information about attackers, but not much came out of this exercise.

Bhatkal's entry into the big league started when the Lashkar planned setting up an Indian outfit. The ban on SIMI hurt the Lashkar badly and it was desperate to set up another outfit.

It was at this time that he came in contact with the likes of Mansoor Pheerbhoy and Mohsin Chaudhary. Bhatkal was given the overall charge of setting up the IM since they trusted his organization skills to a large extent. Moreover, Bhatkal built up a deadly network of disgruntled youth who he started to rope in to this outfit. He had held several meetings in Kerala and Pune to set up the IM. He dealt the most with Chaudhary with whom he set up the deadliest of the modules in Pune.

But Bhatkal had to leave the country when the heat turned on him. He slipped out and moved into Dubai and stayed there for a while before heading to Karachi, where he remained underground.

However, a couple of months ago, he decided to execute a series of attacks in India. He contacted both Mohsin and Shahzad in this connection and laid out a plan. Shahzad was asked to carry out a series of attacks in New Delhi at the BJP and Congress headquarters. With Chaudhary he discussed the Pune attack. At first they planned to target the Osho Ashram and the Chabhad House.

The sketches and plans for such an attack were already ready with the Lashkar since they had received data from David Headley, who surveyed the targets. However, following Headley's arrest, this plan came out in the open and security was enhanced in these locations. The IM was getting desperate and there was a lot of pressure from their financers, the Lashkar to carry out a strike.

The strike at Pune was planned in such manner so that it could aim at affecting talks with Pakistan.

In this regard, Bhatkal managed to send in RDX from Pakistan to carry out the blasts. It is clear that the consignment had come in from Pakistan and the bomb was assembled in India itself. They did try to gain access to the Osho Ashram and Chabhad House but were unsuccessful in their attempt. The plan to attack the German Bakery was a last-minute decision and hence they decided to go ahead with this plan.

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