Thursday, March 10, 2011

Lashkar module in India to target World Cup, warns home ministry

The al-Qaeda and the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba (LeT) are jointly planning a deadly terror attack on World Cupvenues in India, according to a tip-off from foreign intelligence agencies that said the attacks will be launched from Pakistan soil.

Following the "specific intelligence" from the foreign agencies, the Centre has sent as many as four alerts in the last six days to all state governments, with special alerts to those hosting World Cup matches, asking them to take steps to avert the terror strike.

The tip-off suggests that there could be up to 15 attackers - five more than the number involved in the November 2008 Mumbai massacre - who would infiltrate India through both the land and sea routes.

Alarm bells have gone off after it emerged that the leader of an LeT group is suspected by Indian agencies to be one of the handlers of the 26/ 11 attackers who has already "researched" the match venues.

However, there are fears that the hectic activity from the government might have come a little late. According to the Union home ministry alert of March 7 to all states, the first module of the terror group has already entered India.

World Cup-related alerts were sent to the police chiefs of Gujarat, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Punjab, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal and the police commissioners of Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai, Ahmedabad, Bangalore, Nagpur, Chandigarh and Delhi.

The cricket venues in Maharashtra and Gujarat - specifically Nagpur, Mumbai and Ahmedabad - are "special concerns" as they are near the western coast. However, the government has not deployed NSG commandoes yet at any of the eight World Cup venues. An alert sent out on Wednesday to all states says an LeT group led by Zabiuddin Ansari is behind the plot.

This module had reportedly "researched" the eight ICC World cup venues in India in October 2010 and has drawn up a plan to use explosive chemical compounds and detonators in the terror strike.

Sources claimed Ansari is a 30-year-old Maharashtra- born terrorist whom Indian agencies suspect to be among the handlers of the 26/11 terrorists. Sources claimed that he had directed the terrorists on phone from Karachi and had been addressed as Abu Jindal by the terrorists.

Ansari has been missing from India since 2005 when he reportedly slipped into Pakistan for terror activities. Home minister P. Chidambaram had said earlier, "There was a handler in 26/11 whom we have known for long, or suspected for a long time, could be an Indian. That's something we have known for many, many months now. He goes by the name Abu Jindal, but that is not his real name." The Al-Qaeda module trying to enter India from the sea are possibly "Urdu-speakers from the Punjab province of Pakistan," warns the home ministry alert of March 7, adding that even the upcoming Assembly elections could be a target. "A collateral input reveals that Al-Qaeda operatives involved in the attacks could travel to India by boat…that these operatives could be well-acquainted with maritime travel to reach their targets in quick time," the alert says.

The government's priority is, without doubt, the safe completion of the World Cup. A top government source said additional layers of security have been added at all World Cup venues in India with specific attention to the India-South Africa clash in Nagpur on Saturday, the quarterfinal match scheduled in Ahmedabad on March 24, the semifinal fixture in Mohali on March 30 and the final at Mumbai on April 2. The navy and the Coast Guard have been put on alert to thwart any intrusion from the sea.

"The government is taking this alert very seriously. It is not a general alert by any means," a source said, adding that Union home secretary G.K. Pillai is in touch with all the police chiefs concerned.

Sources said that the foreign intelligence agencies who alerted India have also sent a message to Pakistan to check any terror attack being planned from its soil. "The message has gone to Pakistan that people in its territory are planning such attacks on India of the magnitude of 26/11 and that Pakistan should be careful to not allow anything to happen," a source said.

In its alert on March 3, the Union home ministry asked the states to track the whereabouts and movements of the Indian Mujahideen absconders. "The LeT group associated with Zabiuddin Ansari has come to notice seeking information on explosive chemical compounds which can be used for fabrication of IEDs," the alert said.

The home ministry alert sent out on Wednesday added that the group has also researched household items that can be used as chemicals. In another alert sent out on Wednesday, the MHA has asked the states concerned to have better deployment of police personnel inside stadia.

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