For long, counter-terrorism units of 12 states had failed to arrest a man some had named “the ghost who bombs”. The man, Mohammed Ahmed Zarar Siddibapa alias Yasin Bhatkal, was finally nabbed on Wednesday night from Nepal border.
In 2003, he was one of the seven young men who sat together in the Karnataka coastal town of Bhatkal to discuss how to avenge the perceived persecution of Indian Muslims.
While still at a local elite school, Anjuman Hami-e-Muslimeen, Bhatkal got in touch with the core IM members. Along with brothers Riyaz Bhatkal and Iqbal Bhatkal, Gora Ismail alias White Uncle, Sultan and two others, Yasin allegedly helped found the home-grown terror outfit that has been carrying out a sustained terror campaign in the country.
Iqbal was anointed IM chief and Riyaz his deputy, while Uncle, Sultan and Yasin were entrusted with finding recruits. But Yasin became the prime mover of the outfit when Iqbal and Riyaz fled the country in the wake of a security crackdown after Batla House encounter.
Born in 1986, Yasin failed class 10 examinations and left for Dubai in November 2005, but disappeared from the Gulf city in January 2007, his family said. He is learnt to have been introduced to IM members as a trained engineer, but the police deny he ever studied in Pune. Some unconfirmed reports also suggested he was a Unani (Greek medicine) practitioner.
Former home secretary RK Singh describes him as the “most potent” terrorist in the IM ranks.
"He would himself plan a strike and plant the bombs,” said Singh, who was until recently a top officer in the country's internal security set-up.
He remained elusive because he would use his mobile phone few seconds at a time and never communicated through email. He preferred to move addresses every few weeks, usually from one dark dingy room to another, away from urban areas likely to be under surveillance.
That is why, for five years, counter-terror organisations had drawn a blank in their hunt for him.
“He is a very smart operator. He constantly monitors the possible changes in policing, and adapts to it. Since he knows how the system functions, he devises methods to hoodwink it,” a senior IPS officer from Andhra Pradesh had told HT.
Security experts hope that Yasin, being the first high-profile IM operative to have been arrested, will throw light on the working of the outfit and its possible links with foreign terror organisations.