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Is Riyaz Bhatkal really dead?

January 21, 2011 15:52 IST

It has been nearly a week since gangster Chota Rajan claimed that his men had shot down the notorious terror suspect and Indian Mujahideen founder Riyaz Bhatkal in Karachi.

The moment this claim was made, Indian agencies wrote to Pakistan seeking details regarding his 'death,' but till date there has been no confirmation from that end.

This brings out the big question: Is Bhatkal really dead?

Another question is whether Pakistan will ever confirm he is dead or alive, since they have always maintained that Bhatkal is not in their country.

There are two things about the news regarding the death of Riyaz Bhatkal. One, it could be part of a larger operation to track his whereabouts again since when such a news breaks out, family members tend to make calls to confirm the news -- and this is used as a means to track down the man.

The second issue is whether Pakistan can afford the death of Riyaz Bhatkal since a huge terror operation known as the 'Karachi Project' depends a great deal on him.

Sources tell that this is a tricky case and the last time the Intelligence Bureau managed to track down the details regarding Bhatkal, he was living at an area called Gulshan-e-Iqbal in Karachi.

This is a high profile locality and Pakistani spy agency Inter Services Intelligence normally shelters "very high profile persons" such as the likes of underworld gangster Dawood Ibrahim, Tiger Memon and the Bhatkal brothers in this area.

The fact that the ISI ordered him to stay in this area itself is an indication that they wanted him to be under their care. This particular area is a high security zone and is under the constant monitoring of security forces and hence becomes to infiltrate.

Moreover, the ISI has been protecting Bhatkal since they want him to carry out the huge Karachi project which has also been mentioned on a couple of occasions by arrested Lashkar-e-Tayiba operative David Headley.

Riyaz Bhatkal has grown a great deal in the ranks over the past couple of years. Although there have been many such operatives like him, he has managed to undertake a series of blasts in India and has also set up one of the country's deadliest terrorist organisations: the Indian Mujahideen.

Hence with the ISI planning to carry out more home-grown terror strikes on Indian soil, Riyaz Bhatkal remains important to them.

IB sources point out that they would need more time and act on their own sources to confirm this news.

"Pakistan will never give us the information since they have always denied Bhatkal's existence in that country. Whether some gangsters can undertake such an operation in a high profile zone in Karachi is a matter which needs to be seen since we have always known he enjoys high security from the ISI," an IB source said.

If at all Bhatkal is really dead then it is once again a worrisome situation for India. Terrorism in India works on a 'tit-for-tat' mode more than an ideologically driven one.

The Indian Mujahideen has been trying to re-group and the recent Varanasi blasts was a pre-cursor to that. The death of such an important personality in the IM will not be taken lightly and the cadres could be already planning a series of attacks to avenge this.

This happened in the case of Shahid Bilal whose death led to a series of attacks by the Indian Mujahideen. The IB says that if at all Bhatkal is dead, then the IM would surely be demoralised.

Vicky Nanjappa