With reports of the death of Indian Mujahideen founder Riyaz Bhatkal in Pakistan coming in, Rediff.com's Vicky Nanjappa compares the stories of two of India's most wanted terrorists: Shahid Bilal and Riyaz Bhatkal.
Riyaz Bhatkal's story is very similar to that of Shahid Bilal, who belonged to the Harkat-ul-Jihade Islami. Bilal was wanted for his role in the deadly twin blasts in Hyderabad. Both Bhatkal and Bilal were products of the Inter-Services Intelligence's drive to setup a terror module in south India.
Bilal was a small time social worker as per his dossier available with both the police and the Intelligence Bureau. in his locality, Moosrambagh in Hyderabad he was looked up to as a messiah. He is said to have fallen out with some politicians and was fixed in a false case which made him take to terror. This is when some persons from the ISI roped him in and thus began Bilal's journey as a terror operative.
Riyaz Bhatkal was a small time goon in his home town of Bhatkal. He started out as an informant. A police officer who has interrogated him on various occasions says that he was very unassuming and did not hold up against interrogation. It was shocking to see him move into the world of terror since he did not show any signs of being able to pull off big operations. Things began to change for Bhatkal in the year 1999 when there was a major ISI programme in Bhatkal where several youth including Bhatkal were indoctrinated.
The IB says that the similarity between Bhatkal and Bilal was their capability to organise and hence at a very young age the two managed to move up the ladder. The ISI was looking to establish modules in south India and Bilal and Bhatkal were their operatives.
Bilal carried out his job to perfection and managed to set up a module for the Harkat-ul-Jihadi in Hyderabad. According to the police and the IB, Bilal did manage to convince several youth to espouse the ISI's cause.
However the role played by Bhatkal whose actual name is Riyaz Shahbandri was much larger. He managed to set up India's deadliest home grown terrorist outfit called the Indian Mujahideen. This outfit changed the terror set up in India and Bhatkal who ran operations under the alias of Shah Rukh Khan became India's most wanted man.
According to the IB, Bhatkal was been more effective compared to a Bilal. While Bilal managed to setup a deep rooted network in Hyderabad, Bhatkal on the other hand laid out the road map for the IM. His strategy of roping in the Safdar Nagori faction of the SIMI gave him the dividends and with this they managed to carry out a series of blasts in Bangalore, Ahmedabad, Delhi, Jaipur and Pune.
Interestingly both started off as small time operators and grew very big in the terror set up and their deaths too were very similar in nature. Both operated in India for a considerable amount of time before slipping into Pakistan.
Bilal was believed to have been killed by some local gangsters in Pakistan. The IB however believes that it was the ISI which knocked him off since they tend to do this with people who have become a liability and when the demand for their extradition comes up.
However in Bhatkal's case, it appears that it was Mumbai gangster Chota Rajan who carried out this operation. His gang has claimed credit for Bhatkal's death.
The fact however remains that while India can feel happy that two men who had become major threats have been killed, the agencies would have still have loved to catch them alive since these men had on them a lot of information about the terror network in India.
Riyaz Bhatkal's mother Suwaida still awaits confirmation of his death. "I have been reading about it and watching it on television," she says when asked.
"I do not know what to say and I continue to believe that stories have been cooked up. No one from the police department has contacted me after this news broke and I really cannot say if it is true or false. I have not been in contact with my son for the past six years and I do not know where he is. Some say he is in Pakistan while others say he may be still in India," she said.
Suwaida lives in Bhatkal with her husband Ismail. Riyaz's wife Nausha and their three children also live in the same house. There is a mixed reaction about Bhatkal's death in this area.
Some people believe that Bhatkal is a figment of the police's imagination while others feel that he has changed the very face of Bhatkal by helping the ISI spread its base in south India.
Both the IB and the police are still verifying whether the news of his death is true. There has been some activity in Bhatkal where the police are trying to verify through some relatives if there had been any contact from his end in the past few days. The police had however managed to confirm that Bhatkal was in Pakistan.
In addition to this Salman alias Chotu an IM member had told the Delhi police during his interrogation that Bhatkal had slipped into Pakistan and was living under the protection of the ISI.