... Post Bhatkal and Other Arrests
India’s Home Minister Mr Sushil Kumar Shinde flagged the key achievement of apprehension of three leaders directly and indirectly involved in militancy and terrorism in the country during his monthly conference on 07 September. Top cache amongst these was Yasin Bhatkal. Shinde outlined the operation thus,
“Acting on the basis of specific input, the National Investigation Agency (NIA) apprehended two top terrorists of Indian Mujahideen (IM) viz. Md. Ahmed Siddibappa @ Yasin Bhatkal (self-styled operational commander of IM) and Asadullah Akhtar @ Haddi on 28th / 29th August, 2013. They were planning to meet in East Champaran area (near Raxaul), Bihar to plan/execute some terrorist acts. Both the accused were produced before the Court. The Court granted the custody of the accused for twelve days to NIA”.
Yasin, brother of Riyaz Bhatkal who is reportedly lodged in Pakistan is involved in a number of terrorist incidents in the country and was actively plotting attacks in the near future. His arrest is seen as success of a trans-border intelligence operation with assistance of agencies in Nepal.
Shinde also highlighted arrest of Tunda and Lashkar e Toiba leader though he is well past his prime. He said,
“Earlier, on August 16, 2013, Abdul Karim @ Tunda, a well-known Lashkar-e-Toiba explosive expert/terrorist, wanted for his role in 1993 Mumbai serial train blast, Delhi bomb blast of 1997-1998 and serial bombings in the State of Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Punjab, Andhra Pradesh, etc., was arrested by the Delhi Police from Banwasa-Mehendranagar border with Nepal. He is presently under the police custody”.>
Tunda in his seventies may provide background information as his involvement in current activities has been limited but may have extensive inputs on the LeTs’ terror network spread across the region.
The third catch was of Willy, the ill-famed Thai gun runner who has been supplying arms to militant groups in the North East. Shinde said, “Willy Naruenartwanicha, popularly known as Willy, was arrested by Thailand Police on the extradition request sent by Government of India on 30th August 2013 in Bangkok. He was involved in a Criminal Conspiracy for procuring Arms and Ammunition in huge quantity from a foreign country to wage war against India. Earlier in the same case, one accused, named as Anthony Shimray was arrested in India by NIA and the trial of the case is going on before NIA Special Court, New Delhi. This is a significant breakthrough as far as investigation of terror crime is concerned, as for the first time extradition request sent to Thailand against a Thai National was executed by the Thai Government. NIA officers/ officials had visited Thailand and pursued the extradition request in Bangkok”.
Willy is reportedly involved in an arms network that links the NSCN IM with Chinese suppliers having possible links with intelligence agencies in that country. Shinde avoided mention of these issues for reasons best known.
Indian agencies are justly proud to arrest three key suspects wanted in the country two of them Islamist terrorist leaders Yasin Bhatkal and Tunda both from different groups that is the Indian Mujahideen (IM) and Lashkar e Taiyyaba respectively. The impact of the catch is evident with the morale of these groups having fallen Hafeez Saeed leader of Lashkar e Taiyyaba and mentor of IM held a rally in Islamabad on 07 September ranting against India.
Inability of the Pakistani state to control him despite a $ 10 million reward by the United States and an Indian charge sheet for involvement in Mumbai 26/11 would imply that there may not be much relief on cross border support of terrorists in the near future despite the so called policy of regional security and rapprochement by Prime Minister Sharif.
More over interrogation should have led to arrest of more leaders of these outfits by now with three weeks after Tunda’s custody. Given that cells of the IM and LeT remain active apprehension of leaders may thus not derive dividends in the long term.
At the same time the arrest of Willy a key gun runner based in Thailand supplying arms in the North East is another success that will dry up the flow of weapons in the region for the time being. However unless talks with militant groups are followed up to the logical conclusion outfits as the NSCN IM will continue to run a parallel network of arms and terror in the north east grandfathering smaller factions with alternate sources of supply.
Moreover revelations by Indian Mujahideen’s leader Yasin Bhatkal that one of the terrorists who had also been apprehended along with him, Asadullah Akhtar alias Haddi was being trained to carry out suicide attacks in India by the Pakistani agency ISI should be alarming. This would mark up the level of terrorism in the country which at present in the hinterland is restricted to serial bomb incidents which do not cause as much harm as a suicide bombing would. In many instances the serial bombs had been of low intensity as in Bodh Gaya or in some cases they failed due to faulty construction as in Pune in February. A suicide bomb on the other hand will be targeted in a public place causing large number of casualties and would require extensive measures for avoidance including hardening of facilities.
Thus counter terrorism authorities cannot rest on laurels and would have to take their current campaign to a logical conclusion to root out terror in the long term while ensuring that an upgrade in scale of techniques employed to that of suicide bombing is avoided.