Indian Mujahideen lynchpin Yasin Bhatkal, one of the country’s most wanted men, was trapped in a house in Pokhara in Nepal by local cops and whisked away into the waiting arms of the National Investigation Agency (NIA) and Bihar Police in the early hours of Thursday.
His arrest culminated a nerve-wracking Intelligence Bureau-led operation that had gathered steam over the past week. Bhatkal, named for the coastal Karnataka town where he was born, had risen over a decade to become the IM’s executioner-in-chief, playing a key role in blasts across India that killed scores.
He was to be flown to Delhi on Friday, likely by special plane. Interrogators will be keen to establish any link with Pakistan, widely thought to provide logistic and financial support to the IM.
“A reliable informer gave us information on Bhatkal’s whereabouts and a phone number for him,’’ a senior home ministry official told HT on the condition of anonymity. Bhatkal’s phone was tapped for a few weeks, and the IB passed information to the Nepal police, who tracked him to the Pokhara house.
Bhatkal’s right-hand man Asadullah Akhtar, also known as Haddi, was also nabbed in the same house, and was described as a “bonus catch” by a security official.
He is thought to have planted the explosive devices in Mumbai and Pune, among other attacks, and was identified only when the duo were handed over to the Indians at Raxaul on the Nepal-Bihar border at 3am.
Two laptops were recovered from the men.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was briefed about the arrest in the morning by IB chief Syed Asif Ibrahim who was personally monitoring the operation.
In March, NIA had declared a reward of Rs 10 lakh for information leading to the arrest of the two men and secured a non-bailable warrant.
The 750-km-long porous border of Bihar with Nepal offered Bhatkal the opportunity to use the country as a transit base en route to Saudi Arabia to meet his handlers, thought to be Pakistani. He and Akthar had also travelled to Bangladesh and Dubai.