The call went unanswered at the Siddibapa residence in Bhatkal town in coastal Karnataka on Monday evening. In any case, what does one even say. The family would have heard the news that one of theirs, Ahmed Siddibapa alias Yasin Bhatkal had moved one step closer to death.
Yasin was among the five accused sentenced to death by the NIA court in Hyderabad on Monday evening. This dreaded operative of the Indian Mujahideen has been in Hyderabad prison since he was arrested in August 2013, six months after he plotted the Dilsukhnagar blasts in Hyderabad that killed 18 people. The verdict is significant since it is the first concerning IM operatives.
The last time we had travelled to Bhatkal town, 140 km north of Mangaluru in coastal Karnataka, the annoyed voice of Rehana, Yasin's mother had shooed us away. "Jao, Baat nahi karna hai (Go away, I don't want to talk to you),'' her voice came from inside the house in Maqdoom colony.
It was not a surprising reaction because for several years now, after every terror attack in which an IM hand was suspected, policemen and journalists sought out the Bhatkal connection. The family lives partly in denial, arguing that their son's name is Ahmed, not Yasin.
The town too dislikes being in the news for the wrong reasons. Many locals tell you tales of eyebrows going up at the immigration counter at airports, the moment Bhatkal town is seen mentioned as the place of birth. They dislike Yasin, Riyaz and Iqbal Bhatkal — the other two terror operatives - for having adopted the town name and tarred everyone with the same terror brush.
In Bhatkal, Yasin is a dangerous person to have known. One of his school classmates told us that he was picked up by the Mumbai ATS and then by the Bengaluru police to identify Yasin in different disguises. Everyone feels they are under the radar, 24 x 7.
Not that Bhatkal does not remember Yasin. Or Ahmed, as they choose to still call him. An acquaintance who chose not to be identified says the Ahmed he knew was a timid and god-fearing boy. Nissar Ahmed, a social worker in Bhatkal told us that Ahmed was not the aggressive type, as he is made out to be in the media. "He was patriotic. He would be there for all national holidays to hoist the flag,'' said Nissar. Zareena Kola, who taught him at the Naunihal Public school claimed Ahmed always supported India during cricket matches. In today's context of wearing your patriotism on your sleeve, the description sounds ironic.
In 2004, Ahmed left for Dubai, choosing not to continue his education. But with the family unwilling to sponsor his business plans in the Gulf, Ahmed left Dubai in 2007. That was the last, the family says, it saw Ahmed.
Newspaper stories revealed that Ahmed had become Yasin. Intelligence sleuths tracking the rise of Yasin Bhatkal in the terror world say he was radicalised by Iqbal Bhatkal with videos of Mumbai and Gujarat riots sometime in 2007. He is also believed to have been sent to Karachi for training by Iqbal and Riyaz Bhatkal, with who Yasin forged a brotherhood of familiarity and hate. Around the same time, it is believed that ISI merged the Bhatkal network with Simi to form the Indian Mujahideen. The idea was to show that terror in India is homegrown and the Bhatkalis became their poster boys.
Yasin, when he was arrested, was a prize catch. He knew several languages including Kannada, Urdu, Hindi, English, and Bengali. He was a smart operator who knew how to cover his tracks. He never left any digital footprint behind by not using same SIM card or even email to communicate with his handlers in Pakistan. He was expert at acquiring and living with several false identities and assembling IEDs.
In the initial days of his trial in Hyderabad, Yasin was often brought to the court. On one occasion, he was seen holding a red rose and tried to speak to the waiting journalists there. On another occasion, he threw some papers which the accompanying escort police was quick to pounce on and take away. It was after that arrangements were made to conduct the trial through video conferencing.
It is not as if the 33-year-old would not have seen this coming. He and his accomplices have the option of going to the Supreme Court, which they will exercise. Yasin is also an important prisoner to guard at the central prison in Hyderabad, given reports that his friends across the border could do something daring to free him.
For the families of those who lost a dear one in Dilsukhnagar, the verdict brings some closure. But as far as his hometown is concerned, its residents want to have nothing to do with the Yasin who has been sentenced to the gallows. They will only tell you that Ahmed Siddibapa is missing.
Updated Date: Dec 20, 2016 08:08:34 IST