NEW DELHI— Indian police have arrested a top leader of a domestic terrorist group which allegedly masterminded several deadly attacks across the country. It is being described as India’s most significant breakthrough in the fight against terrorism.
In a brief statement on Thursday, Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde confirmed the arrest of Yasin Bhatkal, who is allegedly one of the founders of the Islamic terrorist group, the Indian Mujahideen.
“Yasin has been traced and he is under the custody of Bihar police. The interrogation is going on,” he said.
The eastern Bihar state shares a border with Nepal, along which the 30-year-old militant was detained on Wednesday night.
Bhatkal’s arrest is being called a “big catch” for Indian security agencies. He is accused in a string of terror strikes that struck New Delhi, Pune, Bangalore and Hyderabad and other cities in recent years. The group he heads was blamed for planting bombs which led to the deaths of hundreds of people.
The Indian Mujahideen was outlawed in 2010 after it was suspected of organizing a blast in a popular restaurant in western Pune city which killed 17 people including five foreigners. Its most recent suspected strike was a dual bomb attack that killed 16 people outside a movie theater and a bus stand in the southern city of Hyderabad earlier this year.
Membership in the Islamic terror group is believed to have grown following the 1992 destruction of a Muslim mosque in north India and a wave of communal violence in 2002 in the western Gujarat state which killed 1,000 people, mostly Muslims.
Officials hope Bhatkal’s arrest will help them unravel the terror network and establish how it is funded.
Commenting on the arrest of the top militant, India’s Foreign Minister, Salman Khurshid, expressed satisfaction that terrorists are not finding safe havens any longer.
He says India has been continuously advocating to the world the need to deny shelter to such terrorists and attitudes are changing.
He says wherever terrorists are flushed out, India will welcome it.
India has frequently accused Pakistan of sheltering and refusing to hand over militants whom New Delhi says promote terrorism in India.
Indian officials say Bhatkal’s home-grown Islamic militant group also has links to Pakistan-based militant groups like the Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad.
Bhatkal’s arrest is the second success for Indian security agencies in recent days - ten days ago India took into custody another top militant, Abdul Karim Tunda, who officials say is a senior member of the Lashkar-e-Taiba. He allegedly helped plan more than 40 bomb blasts in India.