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The nabbing of Yasin Bhatkal

Monday, September 16, 2013

After allegedly carrying out at least 11 blasts in various parts of India, Yasin Bhatkal, head of the Indian Mujahideen (IM) militant group, was finally picked up from a mosque on the outskirts of Pokhara, a town 200 km west of Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal. ADC staffer Vishnudas Sheshrao, who recently traveled there, brings back some interesting tidbits.

It was the terrible bomb explosion at the German Bakery in Pune in 2010 (17 deaths, more than a score injured), followed by the serial blasts in Mumbai and the Delhi explosions (15 and 21 deaths respectively, and more than 150 injured collectively) both in 2011, that finally rocketed Yasin Bhatkal onto the international radar of both national and international investigating agencies. When the herat was turned up on him, he fled to Nepal.

For decades, Nepal has been a conventional haven for petty criminals, offering, as it does, the comfort of a foreign clime that can be accessed without passport or visa process at entry points on its international border with India.

According to locals in Pokhara, Bhatkal was also known as 'dadhi wala' (bearded man) and had  introduced himself as a Unani (medical practice in Islam) doctor staying at Bharat Pokhari village, just a three hour walk from Pokhara town, in a hilly area.

He was also spotted at the Miya Patan mosque in Pokhara, where he would come for the weekly namaz and to deliver lectures in the Madarsa next door.

Though Nepal is a former 'Hindu kingdom' with majority Hindus followed by Buddhists, Bhatkal found Pokhara an easy and safe haven. It is also a most tourist- friendly city with the highest number of foreign tourists including European, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh. So it was easy to mingle in.

Local police warned against going there Miya Patan is just 3.5 km east from the Central Bus Park and Traffic Prahari (police) headquarters of Pokhara. It is distinguished by green curtains and the number 786 enscribed decoratively on door lintels. There are few small shops like motor repair, cheap liquor and mutton shops, then row houses followed by a government school. Next is a madarsa. After that comes a green and white mosque barred with an iron gage that is chained and padlocked.

In front of the mosque, there is huge old tree under which a board reads ‘Miya Patan Chouk, Micro bus service' in Devnagari script. Under the tree, some children were seen playing 'Zendi' a crude kind of gambling game. Salim, (in picture, green shirt) was the organiser of the game and his pocket was full of Nepali coins and a few notes. Faced with a camera and whispers that I was a Hindustani policewala, he grabbed the money on the board and made as if to run.

But when I joined the game (and lost), he seemed mollified enough to answer when I asked him why he was not in school. It sdeems that the teacher “Saala murga banata hai”.

A shop keeper asked whether I'm from India. When he received an affirmation, hew wanted to know what was up since the bearded man has already been caught. Was he talking about Bhatkal? But this was a name he was not familiar with, since apparently, Bhatkal had many names. He didn't know name as Bhatkal had many names. He said "Often people from India or Uttar Pradesh in particular, Pakistan and Bangladesh come here. They tell us that guests have come to teach our children in the madarsa or to deliver a lecture in the mosque."

He also tconfirmed that there had been a Unani hospital opposite the mosque which was shut down recently. Collecting all my courage, I went towards it. It was cement concrete house away from the main road. Two primary school children were doing headstands, leaning against the wall in the front hall.

As I approached one child shouted and a person in his 40’s, wearing a lungi came out. He had applied henna (mehendi) on his head and a half-shaved-beard. Was this a Unani hospital? He came out on to the door steps and said no.

So, where was it, we asked. “I don’t know”, he replied angrily. As I walked back to the main road, he stood outside, watching.

Over the next three days, I visited various parts of city, met different people, but most of them were afraid to talk on the record. Even journalists seemed reluctant to speak on record.

And at least one staffer in the local FM radio channel said that local police 'killed' their reports as baseless. He said, "After sometime, we dropped the issue."

Pokhara Deputy Superintendent of police Rajesh Nath Bastola, challenged the authenticity of our reports. “We got our information on the subject from local and national newspapers, he declared.  "We read that one Indian national who was wanted in India was residing here. But there is no record as Indian citizens don't require any visa or any paper work to enter Nepal, he added."

The arrest
Bhatkal was on the radar of several agencies for long time. However, he was smart enough to remain in stealth mode. However, one day, there was a money transfer from Nepal SBI to one of the wives of Bhatkal which raised the suspicions of the investigating agencies. But not enough for anything to be done because such transactions are common.

A break through came about when Lashkar-e-Taiba bomb expert Abdul Karim, also known as Tunda, was arrested at Raxaul on the Nepal border reportedly by the Bihar police. The story making the rounds of the Mumbai police is that he deliberately left Pakistan to come to Nepal, after hearing about the fine treatment afforded to terrorists in prison! It is probably a joke.

According to officials, it was Tunda who gave out some obscure link about Bhatkal to Intelligence services. And so the National Investigation agency concentrated their focus on Bhatkal in Nepal.

Before the actual arrest, Bhatkal was under super surveillance of the local police and Indian agencies. He was caught in Pokhara town by the Nepal police, NIA and Indian embassy security. After his confession, he was taken to the border in a secret operation and under tight security. It was only at Ruxaul that his arrest was announced. Questions put to the Indian Embassy in Kathmandu about Bhatkal are met with a bland request to write them an email – which is then not answered.

In fact, there are some questions that it is better not to ask!

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