Indian security forces announced Thursday that they had captured one of the country’s most wanted fugitives, militant Yasin Bhatkal, near the porous Nepal border, marking what they call a “major breakthrough” in their campaign against his Indian Mujahideen (IM) organization.
The group is believed to be responsible for recent bombings in several Indian cities, including a 2010 blast at a popular expat café in the western city of Pune that killed 17 people. Altogether police say Mr. Bhatkal participated in some 11 bombings and was responsible for dozens of deaths, reports The New York Daily News.
The arrest comes less than two weeks after Indian police announced the capture of another highly sought terror suspect, Abdul Karim Tunda, a bomb maker from the powerful Pakistani group Lashkar-e-Taiba.
The US State Department said in 2011 that IM and Lashkar-e-Taiba had “significant links” to one another, and the men were apprehended in the same region of the country, although police have not yet commented on if or how the two arrests were connected.
Indian Mujahideen was co-founded by Bhatkhal five years ago in response to what he perceived as widespread oppression of Muslims in India, reports The Wall Street Journal. As The Christian Science Monitor wrote at the time, IM was part of a growing trend of homegrown terrorism in India, which had long laid blame for such attacks on spillover from Pakistani militant groups. The notion that India itself could have produced such religious extremism was "a bitterly controversial idea in the Hindu-majority nation sensitive to claims of intolerance," the Monitor wrote.
The BBC describes Bhatkal as a “hands on” militant who participated directly in several of the IM's bombings. In Pune, for instance, CCTV captured him planting a device at the cafe shortly before the explosion. Among law enforcement he was known by the foreboding nickname “the ghost who bombs,” reports the Hindustan Times.
The high profile nature of Bhatkal’s participation in public acts of terror spurred wide public interest in his capture, and at the time of his arrest there was a 1 million rupee ($15,000) reward offered for information that could lead to his apprehension.
Police received a tip on Bhatkal’s movements six months ago, reports the Hindustan Times, and have been tailing him ever since. The paper reports that at the time of his purported arrest he was on his way to Bangladesh “as part of his terror activities and to meet some contacts there.”
As the Monitor reported earlier this year, many Indians have grown frustrated with what they perceive as the slow pace and many false starts of government investigations into acts of terror in the country.
As one man paralyzed in a 2007 attack complained, the state’s terrorism investigations were often full of fanfare, with little to show for the effort. As he predicted after a recent attack, “the conspiracy theories, the arrests, the acquittals will all take place and there will be more blasts again in a few years.”
In Bhatkal’s case, experts have suggested that, for now anyway, the public should take the news of the arrest with a grain of salt. As the BBC notes:
Ajit Kumar Singh of the Institute of Conflict Management in Delhi urged caution saying the arrest would be a "big catch" but the police had a history of bungled operations, reports AFP.
"The intelligence agencies deserve a huge pat on their backs if they have indeed arrested the right man," he said.