Bhatkal arrest: Revisiting the German Bakery blast in Pune

I clearly remember the night of the German Bakery bomb blast while working in a Pune newsroom, declining a phono request from Al Jazeera because we were busy feeding our own editions and TV stations with details of the blast.

Within the first half hour of the blast at 6.52 pm, a backgrounder had been released. It would be another few hours before our reporters got a detailed picture of the full impact.

In the coming days and weeks, CCTV footage had helped anti-terror investigators identify the “Bhatkal Brothers” as the prime suspects in the terror blast. The young boy with the rucksack who was spotted in CCTV footage from a camera inside the restaurant was first, mistakenly, identified by intelligence agencies as Samad Bhatkal. He was arrested in May, 2010 in an Arms Act case, not the German Bakery case. The police and intelligence agencies suffered a setback when, three weeks later, he was released by a Mumbai court for lack of evidence.

The German Bakery in Pune which was hit by the blast. Reuters

The German Bakery in Pune which was hit by the blast. Reuters

The person with the backpack is now believed to be Samad’s elder brother Yasin Bhatkal, alias Siddibappa, who was wanted in connection with blasts in Gujarat, Hyderabad and Bangalore. Yasin, along with his cousins- Riyaz and Iqbal, the founders of Indian Mujahideen, were suspected to be hiding in Pakistan. News of the arrest of Yasin Bhatkal on the Indo-Nepal border is therefore extremely significant.

The German Bakery blast left 17 dead and more than 60 injured. These were all young lives, mostly below 30, who had gathered at this popular restaurant on the eve of St. Valentine’s Day. This was the first major blast after the 2008 terror attack in Mumbai on 26/11. With the Osho Commune and the Jewish Chabad House in the neighbourhood, the terrorists had clearly wanted as many international casualties as they could.

The Pakistani-American Lashkar operative David Coleman Headley had done a recce of this area, with intelligence agencies stating that he had visited the German Bakery – Osho Commune area twice, in July 2008 and March 2009. Headley had also visited the Osho Commune.

However, the timing of the February, 13, 2010 blast was such that Osho’s followers were busy at the evening meditation inside the commune and so the number of foreign casualties was much lower than it might have been.

Reconstructing the sequence of events around the German Bakery blast, investigators had said that the terror suspect entered the bakery at around 6 pm and took a corner table after placing an order at the counter. He was wearing a cap and was inside the restaurant for about 45 minutes. When he left the crowded restaurant, he did so without his rucksack. The blast, triggered by a timer, took place at 6.52 pm.

The Bhatkals were among the most wanted terror suspects for Indian intelligence agencies not only because of their suspected involvement in various operations but also because they were at the helm of affairs at the Indian Mujahideen. They originate from Bhatkal, a town in the Uttara Kannada district of Karnataka, located about 700km from Pune and about 150 km north of Mangalore on National Highway No. 17.

The Navayat Muslim community here is famous for its origins in Yemen. The town is quite prosperous because of the remittances of petro dollars from Gulf countries where many people from Bhatkal are employed. The bungalows and mansions along Bhatkal’s coastline are a testimony to this.

A large number of IM terrorists have originated from this town which witnessed a major communal flashpoint and rioting in 1991 after a fiery speech by BJP leader Uma Bharati in front of a mosque. In 1996, BJP MLA Dr Chittarajan was shot dead by unidentified suspects here, an event that once again ignited communal clashes. For many years after that, the town remained on the edge, polarised by fundamentalists from both sides.

Updated Date: Aug 30, 2013 10:36 AM

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