In New Delhi, the Ministry of Home Affairs issued an alert to all Indian airports and airlines of hijack plans by groups linked to Al-Qaida and the Lashkar-e-Toiba. In accordance with the MHA’s alert, which was based on “western intelligence reports”, all airlines have been asked to strengthen security measures after security agencies were tipped off about plans to hijack an aircraft of the national carrier, Air India, or its sister company, Indian Airlines.
Passengers would have to undergo extra-screening and sky marshalls would be deployed on all flights identified as “sensitive”.
According to another Indian intelligence report, the LeT has acquired more than 50 para-gliding equipment from Europe, setting off alarm bells in the government that these could be used to carry out air-borne suicide attacks in the country.
This has prompted authorities to ensure a tight air security around all vital installations, sources in New Delhi said.
The input about movement of overground workers, owing allegiance to LeT, in Europe led Indian intelligence operatives to find out that they were on a shopping spree for para-gliding equipment, the sources said.
On its part, New Delhi wanted Washington to ensure that American military hardware provided to Pakistan were used against the terrorists only.
As Gates announced American plans to supply 12 unarmed drones (unmanned aerial vehicles) to Pakistan, India reiterated its call to the US to make it sure that Islamabad did not use them against India. Gates disclosed US plans to supply 12 RQ-7 Shadow Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) to Pakistan in order to help the latter step up offensive against the ultras.
In Islamabad, Pakistan prime minister Yusuf Raza Gilani told Gates in no uncertain terms that his country was “itself facing Mumbai-like attacks almost every other day and when we cannot protect our own citizens, how can we guarantee that there wouldn’t be any more terrorist hits in India?” Gilani is understood to have said this to Gates on Thursday.
Gilani’s reported statement comes two days after Gates, while in New Delhi had warned that Pakistan-based militants with links to the al-Qaeda were planning strikes in India with the hope that retaliation would lead to a new conflict between the two countries.
Gates also said that New Delhi might not show restraint as it had after the Mumbai attacks in 2008.
Gilani said the best safeguard against such incidents was delinking the bilateral peace process from action against terrorism. The Dawn newspaper reported that Yusuf informed Gates about steps being taken against militant groups, saying they had been outlawed and their networks disrupted.
In an apparent reference to Jamaat-ud-Dawah chief Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, accused by India of masterminding the Mumbai attacks, Gilani said his government could not prosecute anyone without evidence. He also sought “even-handedness” by the US in its dealings with Pakistan and India, the daily reported.
An official statement issued by the Prime Minister’s office said Pakistan-India relations had figured in Gilani’s discussions with Gates but did not say whether the premier had said Islamabad could not guarantee there would not be more Mumbai-like attacks.
Gilani said “the relations between India and Pakistan should not become hostage to the activities of terrorists which (are) the common enemy. For lasting peace in the region, both countries should resolve the core issues, including Kashmir and water dispute”.
Asking air passengers to be on alert, MHA Special Secretary (Internal Security) U K Bansal said “the alert is based on some intelligence inputs that we have received. We suspect there can be an attempt to target one of our airlines, especially those which fly abroad. We have alerted our agencies to be carefull with anti-hijacking measures.”
Security was tightened at all airports and passengers were subjected to stringent screenings in Air India operations in or from SAARC countries. The Bureau of Civil Aviation Security has issued an advisory to all airlines to conduct a mandatory “100-per-cent secondary ladder-point check.”