Mirza Himayat Baig’s story illustrates how terrorist outfit Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) spots and pursues a potential recruit. The group’s standard formula of recruit young, ambitious men from poor families worked perfectly in Baig’s case.
Born on January 3, 1980, Baig spent his formative years watching his father work as a waiter in a small restaurant in Beed to make ends meet, while his brothers Tareq and Sohajab chipped in with odd jobs. Baig seemed to be the only bright spark in the family when he completed his Class 12 exams and planned to pursue a Bachelor of Arts (BA) degree. However, he did not clear his first-year BA exams.
He dropped out of the college in Beed, and in 2003 registered for a Diploma in Education (DEd) at HGM Azam College of Education in Pune. “His plan was to go back to Beed and work as a teacher,” said an ATS officer, who did not wish to be named.
By joining the college, Baig had unknowingly walked into a hunting ground for LeT scouts. Having lived on the lane in Beed as Syed Zabiuddin Syed Zakiuddin alias Abu Jundal – who went on to become the Indian face behind the 26/11 terror attacks – Baig soon became involved in campus activities with the help of Fayyaz Kagzi, a close associate of Jundal.
According to the ATS, Baig, unlike Kagzi, was not directly involved in any anti-national activities while pursuing his course at Azam College. However, he was known to almost all the people who were later accused in the 2006 Aurangabad arms haul case, as most of them frequented the campus. Baig worked at a library and later at a bookstall to make a few extra rupees to fund his studies. However, his inclination towards academics soon disappeared. After completing his course, Baig became involved in Jundal’s and Kagzi’s LeT module, according to the ATS. Around the same time, Akbar Chowdhury – an Indian Mujahideen (IM) recruiter – spotted him at the bookstall where he worked, and got him to meet Iqbal Bhatkal, the founder of IM.
Later, when the Maharashtra police launched a hunt for suspects in the Aurangabad arms haul case, Baig went into hiding and established himself as key operative of LeT. With money from Kagzi, Baig lived and traveled under fake identities for nearly three years.
In January 2010, Baig was asked to survey potential targets in Pune. He studied every tiny detail of German Bakery and was asked to help Yasin Bhatkal, Iqbal’s brother, to plant the bomb. Baig did not step inside the bakery as he feared people would recognise him. However, according to the ATS, he did help Bhatkal choose the right table to hide the explosives under. This is was the only time Baig directly participated in the terrorist attack, the ATS said.