While “hiding in plain sight” in Munnar, Zia-Ur-Rehman alias Waqas, 24-year-old Pakistani national and terror suspect, earned himself a nickname, one made famous by a character in a popular fantasy novel and film series with a global fan following.
Investigators were loath to make the fictional name public immediately because they suspect that the “Waziristan-trained ingenious bomb assembler” and “key operative of the Indian Mujahideen”, a proscribed terrorist organisation, could have used the moniker to create fictitious digital identities to maintain e-mail and voice over internet protocol (VOIP) contact with “his handlers in India and Pakistan”.
Waqas had frequented local internet cafes and used not less than three mobile phones during his veiled existence at the busy hill station characterised by its dense itinerant population and sprawling tea estates.
State Special Branch officials, privy to the interrogation of Waqas by the New Delhi special police team which arrested him from Ajmer in Rajasthan recently, said his “handlers had asked him to move South and not North” following the arrest of Mohammed Ahmed Sidi Bapa alias Yasin Bhaktal, alleged founder of the IM, in August 2013.
Waqas arrived in Munnar sometime in September 2013 from Mangalore in Karnataka and befriended a tourist guide with a bad police record.
He arranged Waqas a cheap home stay.
During his three-month sojourn there, the “easy going, strikingly tall and school boyish looking” Waqas befriended scores of local people who concurred that he had a striking resemblance to the fictional character and thrust the name on him in a spirit of “tea-stall camaraderie”.
The Intelligence have now categorised most of Waqas acquaintances in Munnar as “casual contacts” who knew little about his “criminal past, nationality and skills”.
It was attempting to trace Waqas source of funding and also whether he had been in contact with or initiated any local “sleeper cells, modules or lone operatives” sympathetic to the IM’s cause.
The police were also concerned that Tehsin Akhtar alias Monu, the operations chief of the IM, had visited Waqas in Munnar at the instance of the Pakistan-based IM founder Riyaz Bhatkal, considered to be close to the Lashkar-e-Taiba, the terrorist organisation accused of having orchestrated the 26/11 attack in Mumbai.
Investigators said Tehsin, who was now under arrest, was “an extreme radical who hoped to join jihadists fighting the Assad regime in Syria”.