New Delhi/Patna: In their second big catch in a fortnight, Indian authorities Thursday announced they had nabbed yet another big terror suspect with the arrest of Yasin Bhatkal, wanted by police in twelve states for alleged involvemnt in a string of bombing incidents and other terror activities in the last five years.
He was arrested along with Asadullah Akhtar, his terror accomplice, authorities said.
Bhatkal, 30, was said to be the co-founder of the Indian Mujahideen (IM), which police say is a homegrown extremist outfit that was allegedly behind 11 major bomb attacks in Indian cities including New Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Ahmedabad, Pune, Uttar Pradesh and Surat that has killed scores of people and injured or maimed hundreds.
He too was arrested from the porous border between India and Nepal. This is the second big catch for Indian security agencies after the arrest of Abdul Kareem Tunda, a key Lashkar-e-Taiba operative and expert bomb-maker, also from the India-Nepal border Aug 16.
The 1,800 kilometer long border unlike India's volatile land borders with neighbours like Pakistan or Bangladesh that are separated by barbed wires and immigration controls - is an open border and people from both countries can cross over to each other without visas.
Indian security agencies have said that this open border has often been exploited by anti-India groups to smuggle extremists and other undesirable people into India and is a major transit point for smuggling and trafficking in people and goods.
Announcing the arrest of Bhatkal, one of India's most wanted terrorists who was on the run for five years, Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde said: "Yasin Bhatkal has been arrested last (Wednesday) night.
He was arrested in a joint operation of intelligence agencies and Bihar Police, officials said. He was on the run since 2008 and was hiding in several countries, including Nepal, Bangladesh and Pakistan, police officials said.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was briefed by the minister about the arrest.
Hyderabad police chief Anurag Sharma identified Asadullah Akhtar as one of the primary suspects behind the Feb 21 bombings at Dilsukhnagar in Hyderabad that claimed 18 lives and injured scores.
Produced in a Motihari court in Bihar, Bhatkal, wearing a hood on his head and cuffed, was remanded to three days National Investigation Agency (NIA) transit custody and will be brought first to Patna and then to Delhi.
Bhatkal, also known as Mohammed Ahmed Mohammed Zarrar Siddhibappa, belongs to Bhatkal district in north Karnataka. He co-founded IM in 2007 along with six others, police said.
Bhatkal is also wanted for the German Bakery bombing in Pune Feb 13, 2010 that killed 17 people. In 2010 india declared IM as a banned organisation. IM was outlawed by the US as a Foreign Terrorist Organisation in 2011.
Bhatkal along with others were also said to be behind three coordinated bomb blasts at Opera House, Zaveri Bazaar and Dadar West in Mumbai July 13, 2011 that killed 27 people.
In 2011, Delhi Police announced a reward of Rs.15 lakh for information leading to the arrest of Bhatkal. Similarly, the Maharashtra Anti-Terror Squad (ATS) had also earlier this year announced a Rs.10 lakh reward on him. Several other states had also announced rewards on him.
He tops the list of 15 IM members wanted by the Delhi police.
Bhatkal's father Zarar Siddibapa said he was relieved that his son was "alive" and not "killed in any staged shootout" as feared by his family.
"We are extremely relieved to know through the media that our son is alive and in police custody as we feared earlier that he would have been eliminated in a fake encounter long time ago," he told IANS from Bhatkal, a small town in the west cost of Karnataka, about 400 km from Bangalore.
Bihar Police chief Abhayanand said: "It was Bihar Police that mainly helped NIA and other government agencies to arrest Bhatkal.
"A team of Bihar Police officials have interrogated Bhatkal at a secret place after he was arrested," he added.
East Champaran district Superintendent of Police Vinay Kumar said Bhatkal would be brought to Motihari from Raxaul under tight security before being taken to New Delhi.