Boom in dental tourism could have "inspired" the extortionist to identify potential targets.
ISIS founder Abu Musab al-Zarqawi may have been killed in 2006, but extortion letters signed off with the dreaded terrorist's name have come back to haunt female dentists in the tony Calangute-Candolim beach belt in North Goa, also known for its booming dental tourism practice.
Police sources claim that at least five women dentists have received extortion threats over the last few months via post demanding protection money to the tune of Rs 1 crore to Rs 2 crore, failing which they have been threatened with death.
Speaking to IANS, Rachna Fernandes, one of the dentists who has received such a threat by post, said she received two letters, both signed off with the name Abu Zarqawi, making demands for Rs 2 crore, failing which "six bullets would be pumped into her body".
The extortionist also demanded that she put up a white piece of cloth outside her clinic, as a sign that she had acquiesced to the demand to shell out the money.
"It is shocking that such a thing could happen to dentists as a community in Goa," Ms Fernandes said.
She received her first extortion threat by post in May this year, following which Ms Fernandes filed a First Information Report at the Calangute police station, which was registered under section 507 (criminal intimidation) of the Indian Penal Code.
Dental tourism is a booming industry in Goa, which sees nearly half a million foreign tourists visiting the shores every year. The boom could have "inspired" the mysterious extortionist to identify dentists as a potential target. Incidentally, most of the dentists who have received the threat from the extortionist are women.
"As dental professionals, we have so many walk-in customers and there is a high accessibility factor. The extortion threat has really alarmed me and our colleagues. And the fact that there is a second letter signed off by the same person, it is alarming," another female dentist who has received the threat told IANS on condition of anonymity.
"As far as we know there has been no headway in the investigation. The second letter only proves that the police have not been able to track down the accused," said a dentist, who too has received the extortion threat.
The contents of both the extortion letters include details about the movements of the victims and that they are under observation, and failure to shell out the money would result in elimination.
"It really affects your work and robs your peace of mind," Ms Fernandes said.
When contacted, Police Inspector Jivba Dalvi, attached to the Calangute police station, confirmed the serial extortion attempt.
"We have been taking the investigation seriously. We have also questioned the postmaster in Calangute and several others. Police patrolling near dental clinics of the victims has also been increased," Mr Dalvi said.
He added that the police were trying to ascertain the identity of the sender of the extortion letters.
"We know Zarqawi is dead. We are working on several angles to see who could be actually using the name to threaten the dentists," the official said.