A 27-year-old from Bhatkal, Zainulabdeen alias Zahid Sheikh alias Jainul, arrested by the Maharashtra ATS on Tuesday after landing at Mumbai airport, is a key missing member of a south India-based explosives supply chain module of the Indian Mujahideen (IM) which carried out a series of bomb blasts across India between 2006 and 2013, killing over 300 people.
Zainulabdeen is specifically wanted in connection with the February 13, 2010 German Bakery blast in Pune, which killed 17 people. He is also alleged to have ferried explosives used in the July 2011 Mumbai triple blasts.
ATS officials said he was placed under arrest at 5.30 am Tuesday.
His name emerged in terror investigations in January 2015 following the arrest of a homoeopathy doctor from Bhatkal, Syed Ismail Afaque, on charges of being the main supplier of explosives to the IM. Zainulabdeen fled to Dubai following the arrest of Afaque, but was detained in October 2015 in Saudi Arabia on the request of Indian authorities for his alleged role in supplying explosives to the IM. Police sources said Zainulabdeen’s arrest was a case of “facilitated passage”.
Afaque’s arrest had revealed that an explosives supply module of the IM, operating out of Bhatkal on the instructions of the elusive IM co-founder Riyaz Bhatkal, was responsible for sourcing and supplying explosives for bomb blasts carried out by the IM in Pune, Delhi, Bengaluru, Mumbai and Hyderabad between 2010 and 2013.
Zainulabdeen was specifically involved in handing over explosives for the German Bakery blast, which was allegedly carried out by key IM operative Yasin Bhatkal, investigations after Afaque’s arrest revealed.
Since the military explosive RDX was used in the German Bakery blast along with ammonium nitrate, investigators hope Zainulabdeen will have some answers on how RDX was sourced.
Investigations by the Bengaluru police into supply of explosives to the IM following Afaque’s arrest revealed that a parcel containing ammonium nitrate and suspected RDX was dispatched from Bhatkal through Zainulabdeen ahead of the Pune blast and was collected in Udupi by an IM operative suspected to be Yasin Bhatkal.
For the July 2011 Mumbai blasts, Zainulabdeen allegedly took delivery of RDX from Afaque three months earlier.
“Riyaz Bhatkal had ordered Afaque to hand over the explosives (for the Mumbai blasts) to another accused, Waqas, an alleged Pakistani national. Afaque gave the explosives to Zainulabdeen and directed him to hand it over to Waqas,” a senior ATS official said.
On July 13, 2011, between 6.54 pm and 7.06 pm, three bombs went off in a coordinated manner at Zaveri Bazaar, Opera House and Dadar, killing 27 people and injuring over 120. The Maharashtra ATS took over the investigations and arrested 12 alleged IM members, including the prime accused Yasin Bhatkal. Zainulabdeen, against whom a Red Corner Notice (RCN) had been issued, is the twelfth arrest in the case. Seven other accused are still at large.
Speaking on Zainulabdeen’s arrest, Special Inspector General Niket Kaushik said, “Explosives were procured by him. He was produced before a local court, which remanded him in our custody till May 6. His arrest will help us unearth the conspiracy and ascertain the role of the other co-accused in the case.”
The IED used in the blast was laced with RDX and assembled at a safehouse in Byculla in south Mumbai allegedly by Yasin, Waqas and one Asadullah Akthar alias Haddi.
Sources also said Zainulabdeen allegedly acted as a courier and supplied explosives for the 2013 Hyderabad blast.
Sources said Zainulabdeen could be able to throw light on the different factions in the group since some of its member have defected and joined the Islamic State.