Civil engineer or India’s chief of terror: A family’s defence | india | Hindustan Times
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Civil engineer or India’s chief of terror: A family’s defence

The family of a civil engineer accused of being the mastermind behind the Indian Mujahideen claims their faith is the reason they are singled out by the police, reports Debasish Panigrahi.

india Updated: Oct 13, 2008 00:31 IST
Debasish Panigrahi

In a clean, prosperous coastal Karnataka town of beautiful wooden houses and quaint Moorish-style lanes, the family of a civil engineer accused of being the mastermind behind the Indian Mujahideen (IM) claims their faith is the reason they are singled out by the police.

“We are hounded by the police day in and day out,” said Khatija Nasoha, an articulate mother of three and wife of Riyaz Bhatkal, alias Roshan Khan, wanted by the police since 2006. “Our only fault is that we are Muslim.”

In her first meeting with a reporter, Khatija spoke as she peered through a frayed lungi that separates the drawing area from the rest of the dilapated double-storey house of the Bhatkal family. “I’m sure one day he’ll come back to prove his innocence. But this is not the right time. He will not get justice,” said Khatija, a graduate in Urdu literature.

Like Khatija, all Muslim women in this town of traders — 75 per cent Muslim, descended from a group of Arab Sunnis who fled 6th century Baghadad — are educated. Since they start working early, literacy among men is lower at 75 per cent; that’s still way above the national average of 49.7 per cent.

The Mumbai and Delhi police believe it’s Riyaz and his elder brother Iqbal — he dropped out of civil engineering to study ayurvedic medicine — who need to be brought to justice if India’s deadliest series of bombings are to be solved.

During the October 6 press conference in Mumbai, Mumbai’s crime chief Joint Commissioner Rakesh Maria had called Riyaz “a top terror operative”.

In 47 bombings in seven cities over the last six months, 173 people have died. These blasts, say the police, were planned by the IM. Its mastermind, the police said, is Riyaz, a graduate of Mumbai’s Sabu Siddiqui Polytechnic and now in his early 30s.

Riyaz and Iqbal were first suspects after the July 2006 train bombings in Mumbai. The police said interrogations of IM suspects have lead them to believe the Bhatkal brothers are masterminds.

Khatija said she last met Riyaz during a covert visit home about 18 months ago. These were his words before he went underground: “Don’t go by what the police say, I’m fighting a religious war. Take care of the family and children.” His mother Shahida Nasoua pointed to the rickety tiled roof and broken window panes of the house let out to them by their brother, a doctor. “They (the police) say my son is a terrorist and received crores of rupees,” she said. “Is this how a crorepati family lives? Had it not been for my brother, we would have been on the roads.”

Joint Commissioner Maria said Riyaz was the key fund raiser for the terror group. “He used to receive money through hawala as well as regular banking channels from gulf countries,” he said. “Till now we know about Rs 26 lakh of such transactions made by Riyaz in the past two years.” The Bhatkal family, howver, does not appear prosperous.

Shahida said: “My sons would often visit the SIMI office in the vicinity since there was very little space in the house. Because of that they became terrorists in the eyes of the police.” “There is no leader to back us. They (police) have portrayed all Muslims as terrorists,” Shahida said. “One day both my sons will come clear.”