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Pune blast: Man held in Mangalore may be bomber
Abdul Samad Bhatkal, younger brother of Pune’s German Bakery blast prime suspect and Indian Mujahideen (IM) operative Yaseen Bhatkal, was picked up by the Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) on Monday morning, ostensibly for his alleged involvement in a little-known case of preparing for a supari killing.

Despite the official reason for his arrest,senior police officials told TOI that the 25-yearold native of Karnataka was suspected of having planted the bomb at Pune’s German Bakery on February 13.

Bhatkal’s arrest came 102 days after the devastating blast, which killed 17 persons. He was held soon after he landed on Monday at Mangalore’s Bajpe airport, the same airport that saw the devastating mishap on Saturday morning; he was returning from Dubai.

No senior official would come on record linking Bhatkal with the German Bakery blast but ATS insiders said the arrest followed a look-out notice — issued following the blast — at airports across the country. This is the first high-profile arrest that the ATS has made in connection with the blast.

Bhatkal was on board Air India flight XI 812 and was first noticed by immigration officials, who alerted the ATS. ATS officers then whisked Bhatkal away to an undisclosed location.

Bhatkal had left for Dubai 12 days after the Pune blast and returned after his visa expired. His father owns several properties in Goa, Mangalore and Dubai.

Officials said Bhatkal’s name cropped up in the case when investigators were probing the closed-circuit television camera footage from German Bakery; a man in his mid-20 s was seen walking into the bakery with two bags and leaving with one.

The police suspected it was Bhatkal on the footage and compared the images to the photo on Bhatkal’s passport.

The officer told TOI that the person seen in the footage was smartly dressed, wearing a cap and walked into the bakery with two bags; but he later walked out of the bakery with only one bag. Officials said investigators had scanned photographs of nine or 10 suspects from Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh and Hyderabad before they zeroed in on Bhatkal. The ATS had launched a massive search operation across the country to trace Bhatkal since he left for Dubai, an officer said.

Bhatkal, suspected to be the member of IM, was never on any airport’s look-out notice prior to the Pune blast. His brother , Yaseen, is a wanted accused in the Delhi and Ahmedabad serial bomb blasts. TOI had earlier reported about Yaseen’s suspected role in the Pune blast.

Bhatkal’s profile and photograph was circulated among ATS chiefs of all states when they discussed the Pune blast case at the Centre for Police Research at Pashan, Pune, in March, the officer said, adding that the investigating agencies had not revealed the information as they were planning to nab him as soon as he arrived in India.

Bhatkal completed his schooling from Bhatkal village and studied up to the higher secondary level in Bangalore. He is fond of foreign bikes. His rich businessman father has constructed a mosque in Goa.

Officially, however, the ATS insisted Bhatkal was arrested because of a 2009 supari killing case. “Bhaktal will be booked for the case in which three persons were arrested. He supplied them three firearms that were smuggled from China,” an official said.

The ATS arrested three alleged Chhota Shakeel gang members — Haji Imran, Suleiman Mehmood alias Katela and Afzal Shaikh alias Lala (all three Mumbai residents ) — on August 5, 2009. Imran is the brother in-law of Aarif Baig, who was said to have helped gangster Firoz Konkani escape from Mumbai’s J J Hospital a few years back. Baig was sentenced to life imprisonment but jumped parole and is now absconding.

“Baig was a key planner for Chhota Shakeel in India. And, if his brother in-law is found hatching a plan, it means Baig is once again taking interest in the gang’s operations in Mumbai,” an ATS officer said.

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Pune blast: 5 more likely to be arrested

MUMBAI: Two RAW officials were on the same Air India flight that brought Pune's German Bakery blast prime suspect Abdul Samad Zarar alias Samad Bhatkal from the United Arab Emirates to Mangalore on Monday.

Senior officials in the security establishment said Bhatkal was identified as the planter of the explosives just 20 days after the February 13 blast. "We wanted to arrest the planter first and that was why this arrest took time. Other suspects are already under our surveillance," said an Anti-Terrorism Squad officer. At least five more persons, including two Pune boys, are likely to be arrested in the case soon. Meanwhile, home minister said on Tuesday that Bhatkal was the prime suspect in the case.

Officials said Bhatkal was first identified as a college-goer — who had come to Pune from Bhatkal village in Karnataka — in the CCTV footage. "That sent us on his trail," one of the officials told TOI.

Bhatkal, who was arrested by the Maharashtra ATS at Bajpe airport in Mangalore on May 23 morning, was brought to Mumbai and booked in a nine-month-old case of supplying imported arms to three suspected gangsters. The ATS said Bhatkal was a Chhota Shakeel gang member and the agency wanted to find out if foreign elements were involved in the supplying of arms. Officials said he would be shown as an accused in the Pune blast case when the time was "right". Officials said the blast was the work of the Indian Mujahideen (IM) and a mobile phone was used to trigger the blast.

Bhatkal was produced before a court in Mazgaon on Tuesday and remanded in police custody till June 1.

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