Pune, Feb.14: Even as Maharashtra ATS and Pune police wait for the chemical analysis reports to establish which group was responsible for Saturday’s bomb blast in Pune, Riyaz Bhatkal and his brother Iqbal Bhatkal, founder-members of the Indian Mujahideen (IM), have emerged as prime suspects.
Riaz Bhatkal & Iqbal Bhatkal
Sources said the modus operandi of the blast looks the handiwork of IM led by Riyaz Bhatkal, held responsible for at least 11 blasts across the country since 2005. The blasts stopped in 2008 when Mumbai crime branch busted the module and arrested its leading members. ‘‘Bhatkal has been masterminding various blasts since 2005. But it was only after the Mumbai police busted the ring that his and Sadiq Shaikh’s names cropped up. Until then, all investigating agencies had been speculating the hand of Lashkar-e-Taiba,’’ said an officer on condition of anonymity. ‘‘The only difference this time is that they have chosen the place frequented by foreigners to make a big impact like 26/11,’’ an ATS source said.
IM has a strong presence in Pune. ‘‘Many of its members who are at large belong to Pune and adjoining villages; as their base, Pune becomes a soft target,’’ said another source. In 2008, when crime branch arrested 21 IM members, the prime accused, Riyaz Bhatkal, his brother Iqbal Bhatkal, and their associates, Mohammed Ali, Amin, Irfan and Abu Rashid remained at large. Among the 21 arrested, most are well educated and from well-off families. Top among them were the computer engineer Mohammed Mansoor Asgar Peerbhoy and MBBS doctor Anwar Bagwan. During interrogations, the accused revealed that all the operations were carried out under Bhatkal, a small time extortionist in Kurla.
Sources said the Bhatkals were born in Bhatkal village in Mangalore, and grew up in Kurla, Mumbai, where they ran a leather-tanning business. In Kurla, they stayed at Pipe Road, a stone’s throw from the place that once housed the banned organisation SIMI’s head office. It was there that the two brothers became strong SIMI members and ran the office until the Maharashtra government sealed it in 2001.
To escape the police, Riyaz came in contact with Naseer Aydeet, a member of the Fazlu Rehman gang. After the fall of the gang, Riyaz and Naseer decided to start their own gang named RN (R for Riyaz and N for Naseer).
Their names cropped up after the 7/11 blasts, but they had already fled Karnataka. While the two brothers are on the run, their family members are underground, police said. It’s learnt they went to UP where they recruited youth from Azamgarh to send them to Pakistan for training. Bhatkals are accused of hatching conspiracies ranging from recruiting youth, training and selecting targets and even supplying RDX.
The same group was responsible for sending e-mails by hacking into WiFi systems in Sanpada, Chembur and Khalsa College, Sion before the Ahmedabad and Delhi blasts.