“I had warned Riyaz (Bhatkal) but he overlooked my instructions. I knew the police would get us in the end.”
This is how 32-year-old software programme engineer Mohammed Sadiq Israr Sheikh, the alleged co-founder and main controller of Indian Mujahideen (IM), reacted when his interrogators from the Mumbai Crime Branch (CB) informed him how they caught around 20 of his operatives on Monday.
Sheikh, arrested along with four other key IM members by the Mumbai police two weeks ago, is allegedly involved in the planning of September 13 Delhi blasts and July 26 Ahmedabad blasts.
Another co-accused is the group’s dead operations chief Atif Ameen and logistics/recruitment chief Riyaz Bhatkal, who is still absconding.
So what was the warning Bhatkal seemed to have ignored?
The Crime Branch’s additional commissioner of police, Deven Bharti, when asked by Hindustan Times, said, “Sadiq told us that he had specifically warned Riyaz Bhatkal, who were both at par in the Indian Mujahideen’s pecking order, to discontinue the practice of sending terror e-mails, which leave behind digital signatures, and using cars, that have chassis numbers, to park bombs at a targeted spot. Sadiq told him that both these tools leave a trail behind that would help the police netting IM modules.”
“Sadiq,” said Bharti, “seemed absolutely composed while saying this but he seemed deeply remorseful.” He answered Bharti’s queries in flawless English.
The “warning”, said Sheikh, was delivered to Bhatkal, who holds a diploma in civil engineering and dabbled in extortion-and-counterfeit currency related activities before turning to terror, in a meeting at suburban restaurant in Mumbai.
“This meeting occurred at a McDonald's outlet in Andheri west before the July 26 Ahmedabad blasts and was attended by Sheikh, Bhatkal, and Delhi’s Atif Amin. Despite Sheikh’s warning, Bhatkal went ahead and sent an e-mail using a hacked Wi-Fi connection in Navi Mumbai and used four stolen cars to plot attacks in Ahmedabad and Surat,” said Bharti.
His interrogators describe Sheikh, a resident of Mumbai’s Cheetah Camp area, as having an “amazing intelligence” who is “ruthless” in equal measure.
Said Bharti, “We repeatedly asked him if he rued the loss of lives of innocent civilians but he stayed unfazed and expressed no remorse at all.”
Added Bharti, “Sadiq said he and his group have conducted blasts for the Muslim qaum (community) and to avenge the 2002 Gujarat riots.”
Sheikh, in turn, in fact asked Bharti rhetorically, “Were not the Muslims who died in the riots in Gujarat innocent civilians as well?”