‘Serial hoax caller’ is a teen with a head for numbers

Vikas Yadav,19,remembers 1,900 toll-free numbers,has a fascination for Kasab

Written by Smita Nair | Mumbai | Published: February 28, 2013 2:41:17 am

On the first call he made,he asked for details of travel to Cape Town. The voice at the other end answered his specific queries with equal precision; airline call centre employees seldom say no. The caller knew this. The call went for 43 minutes,all details covered,including the fact that a credit card number has 16 digits and is backed by a three-digit CVC number. He hadn’t seen one in his life.

On the second call,which came two hours later the same morning,he asked for the schedule between Mumbai and Bangalore. He asked for the flight number,the departure time,the terminal,the landmarks along the route,the number of seats in the aircraft. His queries were precise; tapes show he never repeated a question.

The third call was just around noon. He asked for sector information,and reconfirmed details collected on the earlier call. The call centre voice shows some fatigue,his doesn’t. He had memorised every piece of information from the previous calls.

It was October 22,2012,a Monday,and the first day of the week brings very high traffic,say airline officials.

The fourth call’s recorded time is 3.30 pm,and it lasted an hour and a half. This time he gave his name as Vikas Yadav,sounded annoyed,and asked for floor manager Roger. He had noted the name of the manager from a call he had made on September 22. He would speak only to Roger,he snapped.

He was specific again,this time with a threat — Jet Airways flight 9W2105 to Bangalore,leaving Mumbai’s Chhatrapati Shivaji Airport at 4.10 pm,was to be hijacked by a passenger in row number 13.

With the security check-in already done,panic struck the airline cabin and the flight was moved to an isolation bay.

He spelt out his demand. He wanted Ajmal Amir Kasab,the lone surviving (till then) gunman from 26/11,released and the flight moved to Pakistan. The passengers were frisked,questioned and detained. There was no row number 13.

The caller’s name had initially not been audible. It had what airlines officials called a “strange accent” when he repeated it in the radio-telephony alphabet code: Victor,India,Kilo,Alpha,Sierra; Yankee,Alpha,Delta,Alpha,Victor.

That was his first mistake. Had he not used the code,his call would have been treated as a prank. But security agencies never take use of the NATO code lightly,even on a hoax call. “You are on either side of the security line if you know the code,” a security official says. CISF officials say they informed the Intelligence Bureau about it.

The catch

On February 8 this year,the Mumbai crime branch’s unit VIII picked up 19-year-old Vikas Yadav from a hideout in Vapi after a year’s probe and five months’ surveillance of calls,a period that included the October 22 hoax. His name had come up earlier,too,but his call was then counted in the “non-specific category”. On many earlier calls,while still asking for Kasab’s release,he would give hints of mischief,and never go into such detail. A specific call is one with which the caller gives the “exact threat environment”.

Booked under the stringent Suppression of Unlawful Act against Safety of Civil Aviation Act,Vikas is now being probed for hoax calls made to the Bihar,Gujarat,Bangalore and New Delhi airports,too,with the crime branch writing to these airports. The picture that has emerged of the school dropout is one of a serial hoax caller.

He is obsessed with Kasab,leans towards Pakistan,and is a memory junkie — he can remember over 1,900 toll-free numbers.

Records show his was the voice behind hoax calls in 2011,claiming to be calling on behalf of gangster Dawood Ibrahim and threatening to blow up the Rajdhani Express and the Garib Rath. His father,Gorelal Yadav,was arrested with him after he used his SIM card for that call. A few calls made between June 2012 and December 2012 to New Delhi and Bangalore airports seem to match his voice,according to officials. So does a scare call made to the Jammu and Kashmir police control room.

He allegedly called the Jet Airways call centre on four occasions between January 2012 and January 2013,the first three times threatening to hijack a flight if Kasab was not released,the fourth time demanding that Kasab be spared execution.

“It’s vikruti (destructive mind),only vikruti,” says Deepak Phatangre,senior inspector in unit VIII,nodding his head. “There is nothing else I can describe him as. It’s vikruti.”

Phatangre,who conducted the probe,picked up Vikas from his Vapi hideout and admits he didn’t match the target profile they had initially sketched. Experts who analysed the October 22 call had given a sketch of a “professional”,a “man who knows his arms and ammunition”,“a man with a purpose”. They had categorised him as a “frequent flier”,sending the agencies into profile checks.

“The idea we had been given was that he is in his late twenties,with technical knowledge of weapons,” says assistant inspector Sanjay More of unit VIII,investigating officer,who has spent hours questioning Vikas. “He specified the exact rounds of every weapon he claimed the hijackers had.”

Vikas’s story was of a hijacker supported by accomplices in the hangar and parking lot,equipped with three types of weapons including AK-47s.

“Further,he was a man who wanted Kasab freed,” More says. “We left nothing to chance; his call became a priority.” But “detecting the source location was impossible as it showed some remote space in Patna with a radius over 13 km”.

His world

When Yadav was brought before the interrogating team,they saw a youth “vague about life”,“a school dropout with no clear aspirations”. “Even his clothes weren’t tucked in,” a policeman says.

“We realised his world revolved around toll-free numbers,” says Phatangre. “He had no access to anything,no internet,no newspapers. Just toll-free numbers.”

His memory intrigued them. “He had memorised over 1,900 toll-free numbers and called them over the last one year,” says More. “Toll-free numbers of ten digits only have the last four digits different,and he had experimented with these and called banks,retail services,hotels,airlines,transport services,financial services.”

He would spend an hour on each call,gather information and memorise it. “No wonder the negotiators (those who analysed the calls) thought of him as a man with technical expertise. It was all memorised information ,” says Phatangre,adding,“I made him read 15 IMEI numbers. He repeated each after an hour in the same order.”

The probe team have recorded his statement — “Pakistan is a friendly nation. Free Kasab” — and cited “mass panic” as the motive. “It was very strange for us to hear him speak of Kasab with such respect. He is not deranged but he saw valour in what Kasab had done,” says Phatangre. And Jyotsna Rasam,inspector,says, “A small-town boy,all he saw was a man walking with an assault rifle in a city like Mumbai.”

Vikas used four phones,allegedly making 20 calls or so from each one every day to various call centres. Yet he never repeated the same phone on a threat call long enough for it to be counted as “specific”.

“One SIM card had been stolen,another made on a fictitious identity based on a PAN card he had found on the street,” says More. “A third was in someone else’s name. All these cards were registered in Gujarat,while he lived in Bihar.” The fourth card,registered in Bihar,was the one that eventually led to his arrest.

Search & recovery

“He made a new call on January 2013,” More says. It was his second mistake. “The voice matched,” More says. “He had used a SIM card bought in Jamui district,Bihar,near his home.We left for the area.”

The local SP told the visiting team they weren’t the first looking for “a hoax caller in the district”. Agencies and police from six states had come but no one had succeeded in zeroing in on the house.

“We had leads about the house being in a village called Kanan. We were told the region had seen Naxal attacks,” says More. “Inspector Raju Kasbe,police personnel Swapnil Kate and Ravindra Pardesi,and I were in our police vehicles. We had local police escorting vehicles at both ends,checking for landmines.”

They reached the house after a six-hour search. Vikas’s uncle Vishnu Prasad told them he had panicked and left for Gujarat.

“His father had once been picked up by Gujarat police after he had used his SIM card for a hoax call. The uncle pleaded with us with folded hands,” More says.

When the Crime Branch finally zeroed on him in Vapi,inspector Milind Desai spent a whole day locating all the phones and SIM cards used. “He had hidden them at different places,” Desai says. “One was in the schoolbag of a childhood friend who had no clue about it. The others were in crevices and places he frequented.”

“We never found a phone number on any of his phones. It was all inside his head,” says More.

And Phatangre says,“He wasn’t a frequent flier. Just a frequent caller.”

What airports deal with

* 3 specific hoax calls received by Mumbai’s airports

in 2012,according to CISF. On such calls,the caller has “ positively identified himself or the organisation involved,and is judged credible”

* 255 non-specific hoax calls received by these airports during the same year

* “An analysis shows such calls can be made by a variety of persons for various reasons. A passenger who is not able to reach the airport in time,a passenger denied seat/excess baggage,a drunken passenger,a rival businessman,a mentally deranged individual,a disgruntled employee,or even a prankster are known to have taken recourse to such an action,” says Vaibhav Tiwari,spokesperson for Mumbai Airport Authority Ltd.

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