Security strengthened after air attack alert in India (Second Lead)

December 4th, 2008 - 9:30 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Dec 4 (IANS) Security at major Indian airports was heightened Thursday following a terror strike alert, officials here said.Civil Aviation Secretary Madhavan Nambiar said Thursday evening that “all necessary steps” were being taken to ensure security at airports.

“I urge the media to maintain restraint while reporting as passengers are getting panicky because of the information appearing in news channels regarding terror threats to airports,” he told reporters.

Added R.V.P. Sahi, Bureau of Civil Aviation Security (BCAS) commissioner: “We are taking steps to further augment security. This is a fallout of the Mumbai attack.”

However, neither Nambiar nor Sahi commented on the exact extent of threat to airports, or the nature of security measures being taken.

It is feared that the Deccan Mujahideen, a hitherto unknown terror outfit that claimed responsibility of the Mumbai attacks last week, would execute the air attacks on the airports as well.

Top security officials met here in the wake of an e-mail threatening to attack three major Indian airports - Delhi, Chennai and Bangalore, sources said.

The e-mail also specifically mentioned that the attack would take place between Dec 3 and 7, a government official said.

According to the sources, the e-mail was sent to the Indira Gandhi International (IGI) Airport in New Delhi, following which the BCAS stepped up security arrangements at these airports.

Airport officials here refused to divulge details about the e-mail but the sources said it was tracked by the Interpol to Lahore in Pakistan and was sent by a Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) operative.

Sahi said airline operators have been told to ensure passengers reach airports well before schedule as security checks take time.

“This alert is not restricted to Bangalore, Delhi and Chennai airports but applies to other international airports too. Following the Mumbai attack on Nov 26, a nationwide alert was given to all airports. We have been in co-ordination with the IAF (Indian Air Force).”

An official, requesting anonymity, said: “We had specific intelligence inputs that militants from Pakistan or Afghanistan were planning to strike airports (in India) ahead of the anniversary of the demolition of the Babri Masjid.”

The centuries-old Babri mosque in Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh, was demolished by Hindu activists Dec 6, 1992, claiming the site was the birthplace of Hindu Lord Ram. The incident led to nationwide protests by Muslims and a spate of communal riots in the country.

The unprecedented security measures at the three major airports and 13 others across the country come following the Nov 26 terror attacks in Mumbai that left 172 people dead.

The airports have been categorised as “hyper-sensitive” by security agencies, the official said.

The IAF has been asked to coordinate in air surveillance at airports, according to the official.

IAF Chief Air Chief Marshal Fali H. Major, after a function here on the occasion of Navy Day, said the air force was prepared. “This is based on a warning which has been received by the government and we are prepared as usual.”

Sniffer dogs were deployed at some airports and sky marshals have been deputed on planes flying on sensitive routes, the official added.

At IGI Airport, passengers and their luggage were thoroughly checked.

A former official of the BCAS told IANS on condition of anonymity that if terror attacks in Mumbai were any indication, the threat to airports would rise further.

“Airports are always the first choice for terrorist attacks,” he said. He said Indian airports, even hyper-sensitive airports, do not have a foolproof security.

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