Mirza Himayat Baig, the 33-year-old convicted for under conspiracy charges for the Pune German Bakery blast, hails from the Beed in Maharashtra. He was a ordinary Maharashtrian young man mostly just interested in his studies. All that changed with the 2002 riots in Godhra in Gujarat.
That prolonged spell of violence left him bitter, sources say. Standing by in the sidelines, seemingly waiting to add fuel to the simmering fire, was his neighbour Zabiuddin Ansari, an LeT and IM operative, who was subsequently wanted for the Aurangabad arms haul. He is better known as Abu Jundal, linked to the 26/11 attacks.
Till then Baig was the youngest son of a halwai in Beed's Killa Maidan, which is where Ansari also lived.
An ATS officer says, “Baig had just completed junior college and the Gujarat riots had had a deep impact on his mind. Ansari... was at the time organising youth for jihadi activities. The two first came in contact in 2003. Through 2003-04, Ansari slowly started brainwashing Baig, as he saw in him a man who had the right commitment to take on greater responsibilities later.”
With so much going on in Baig’s life, he failed his first year Bachelor of Arts exams in Beed, say sources. “He did well in school and pre-college, but by the time he reached college, his mind was elsewhere. However, he was still not into terrorist activities. He was merely an angry Muslim attending SIMI meetings. In 2004, he moved to Pune to pursue a course in Azam Campus. This was the real turning point in Baig’s life,” the officer said.
At the Pune campus, Baig met Akbar Chaudhary, an Indian Mujahideen terrorist, who was later arrested for the Ahmedabad blasts.
ATS chief Rakesh Maria says, “It was Akbar who had the greatest influence on Baig, and it was he who indoctrinated him in the real sense.”
Akbar was also the man who initiated Baig into the IM terror network, say sources. “There were several terror meetings held by Akbar and other IM members. It was during one of these meetings that Akbar introduced Baig to Mohsin Chaudhary and Mohammed Ahmed Zarar Siddibappa alias Yasin Bhatkal, who later collaborated with him in the Pune blasts,” says an ATS officer.
By 2006, Baig was known to the police as an associate of Ansari, So, when they nabbed the latter with a huge consignment of arms and ammunition, they came to question Baig as well, despite the fact that he had nothing to do with the case. This spooked Baig enough to go scurrying from one place to another, say sources.
“He kept flitting between Pune, Parbhani and Beed, until Akbar took advantage of the situation and took him to meet IM mastermind Iqbal Bhatkal in Karnataka in 2007,” says the officer.
Allegedly, it is there that Iqbal and his brother Riyaz Bhatkal brainwashed Baig into taking a more active role in the jihad because now the police would always target him using his religion as an excuse to embroil him in false cases.
Subsequently, Ansari and his associate Fayyaz Kagzi left India, keeping in touch with Baig online. This is how he is said to have been in touch with the LeT. He was entrusted with the job of enrolling students at the Azam Campus from across Mahrashtra, who would later be indoctrined into the jihad, say sources.
Baig was later chosen for training in bomb-making and taken to Colombo in March 2008. When questioned later in court, he said, he had gone to Colombo in search of a job and returned as he could not get any work there due to the language barrier. The ATS says he was there for two weeks expressly to train in advanced terror activities.
However, nothing came of the training immediately because the Pune module of the LeT was cracked wide open by the ATS in July 2008. In September, there was a nationwide crackdown on the IM, say sources.
This prompted Baig to flee to Udgir in Latur. “He opened an internet cafe there and lay low for a complete year. Throughout this period, he did not contact any member of the LeT or the IM in any way. They had learnt their lessons well after core members of IM were arrested. They knew maintaining any contact over the phone or mails could expose them,” says the officer.
In January 2010, Baig met Yasin again. This time, things were heading to a sinister conclusion because Yasin already had orders to execute a blast in Pune, say sources.
“Baig was chosen as he hadn’t yet been exposed, unlike other key members of IM. After that, he, along with Yasin and Mohsin, planned the blasts and assembled bombs in the same internet cafe, finally executing the Pune attack on February 13,” the officer said.