On December 3, Nazir Ahmad Dar, a 51-year-old farmer who lives in the old town area of Srinagar, set out from Kashmir on a pilgrimage spanning four countries. Less than a month later, on December 30, he was detained by Iraqi authorities at the Najaf international airport. His name had showed up on an Interpol red corner notice.

The notice is available on the website of Interpol – the International Criminal Police Organisation. It states that a 51-year-old called Nazir Ahmad Dar, who is from the Sopore area of North Kashmir, is wanted by India for “criminal conspiracy, offences relating to membership of a terrorist organization and support given to a terrorist organization, raising fund for a terrorist organization”. The notice also features a grainy picture of the wanted man.

Dar, who was detained in Iraq, is not the same man, his family claims. Even the Indian authorities agree.

On January 7, the Indian Embassy in Iraq wrote a letter to the country’s foreign ministry clarifying that this was a case of mistaken identity. “The matter has been checked and examined by the concerned originator of the Interpol Red Corner Notice in India (i.e National Investigation Agency in present case),” the letter states. “They have informed the Embassy of India that this is a case of mistaken identity and the Indian national Nazir Ahmad Dar, detained at Najaf, Iraq is not the person wanted by the Indian authorities. It’s therefore kindly requested that Mr Nazir Ahmad Dar (Passport No: N9626344) may kindly be released immediately,”

But the letter by Indian authorities has failed to secure Dar’s release. His family now pin their hopes on a stronger intervention by the Indian government.

A pilgrimage and an arrest

Dar and his wife were part of a group of 70 pilgrims. The itinerary had included sacred sites in Saudi Arabia, Syria, Iran and Iraq. Their tour guide, Wali Waheed, also a Kashmiri, said they were travelling from Syria to Iraq when Dar was arrested at the Najaf airport. His wife was not detained.

“It was the last country these pilgrims had to visit on the trip,” said Waheed, who spoke to Scroll.in on the telephone from Iraq. “They had to go to Karbala, Najaf and other sacred places in Iraq as part of the pilgrimage.”

In Najaf, Waheed said, they tried to reason with the Iraqi authorities. “I asked them: why was he allowed to leave India in the first place if he was on Interpol’s list?” he said. “Also, if he was really wanted, why didn’t the Interpol authorities detain him in Saudi Arabia or Iran or Syria? But they didn’t listen.”

Finally, Waheed and the pilgrims approached the Indian embassy in Baghdad, which issued a letter clearing Dar’s name. But that was not enough to convince the Iraqi authorities, Waheed said.

“With the embassy letter, we approached a local court for Nazir Ahmad’s release but the judge said that he will be released only after he gets a clearance from Interpol,” Waheed explained. When he approached a higher court, he got the same response.

No police record

Dar’s family appealed to the government of the freshly minted Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir to intervene. “From the local police station to the advisor of the lieutenant governor, we have brought the matter to the notice of everyone,” said Arif Hussain Dar. The local police had conducted a verification of Dar’s details.

Dar, a father of three, has no history of criminal activity, the police found. In a report submitted to the senior superintendent of police, Srinagar, the station house officer of Srinagar’s Zadibal police station said Dar’s personal details, including parentage and address, had checked out. “Moreover, there is nothing adverse against the individual as per available records so far,” the report states.

Waheed says the alarm went off in Iraq because the arrested farmer had the same name and date of birth as the person named in the Interpol notice – the Iraqi authorities had shown the travelling pilgrims the notice when they detained Dar. “However, the addresses didn’t match,” he said.

Back in Srinagar, Dar’s family think that the word “Sopori” on Dar’s passport may also have triggered suspicion. “His mother’s name is Khatija Sopori and is mentioned on his passport,” said 28-year-old Shahida Nazir, Dar’s daughter. The man in the Interpol notice is from Sopore.

‘A simple farmer’

Back in Zadibal, in downtown Srinagar, Dar’s family is anxious and puzzled. “This was the first foreign trip of his lifetime,” said Arif Hussain Dar, his son. “He is completely illiterate and not involved in any illegal activity. My father is a simple farmer and there is not a single case pending against him. Even our local police station has given it in writing that my father has no criminal record.”

Residents of Zadibal are incredulous about his detention. “I have known Nazir for more than 22 years now,” said Mukhtar Ahmad Dar, a neighbour and former business partner. “That man is so simple, he can’t go beyond his locality on his own. It is ironic that a man like him got involved in such a mess.”

Knocking on Delhi’s door

But conversations with local officials suggest that it was now up to Delhi to take the matter up with the Iraqi government, said Adil Abbas Dar, the detained farmer’s nephew. “Whatever the local authorities in Kashmir had to do in the matter, they have already done that,” he explained.

However, approaching local officials in Kashmir was one thing, approaching Delhi was another. “We don’t know anyone there and it will be hard for us to go there and get appointments with the officials,” said Adil Abbas Dar. The family are confident that Dar would be released soon if the Ministry of External Affairs stepped in.

Meanwhile, they worry that his detention may continue indefinitely, especially after his co-travellers come back to India. Dar’s wife had been persuaded to return. “The pilgrimage is ending in a few days and all of them will return to India on January 13,” said Shahida Dar. “We are very worried about him.”