Pranab Dhal Samanta Posted: Jan 22, 2010 at 0250 hrs
New Delhi India has put all Air India/Indian Airlines flights operating in South Asia on high security alert after specific intelligence was received on Thursday that Islamic fundamentalist groups aligned to the Al-Qaeda or the Lashkar-e-Toiba plan to hijack one such flight.
According to intelligence sources, the target is possibly an Air India/Indian Airlines aircraft operating to and from “any one of the SAARC countries” and that it can happen anytime “in the near future”.
Given the high credibility of the intelligence, the Home Ministry held an urgent meeting yesterday itself and issued a set of directions aimed at upgrading security, which included deployment of sky marshals on all flights of the carrier operating in the region.
The Bureau of Civil Aviation Security (BCAS) has issued an advisory to all airlines to conduct a mandatory “100 per cent secondary ladder point check” until January 31 on all aircraft flying between these eight countries: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.
Besides this, other measures activated are: strengthening anti-hijacking measures and coordination with agencies concerned with the task and sensitizing security agencies of all countries where Air India/Indian Airlines aircraft operate.
Following an incident-free year in 2009 on the terror front, sources said, there has been pressure within anti-India terrorist groups to carry out a “sensational strike” soon. In this context, the hijack of an Indian commercial aircraft from foreign soil has been rated as a strong possibility. For, many of these terror groups do have associates in most neighbouring countries, said sources.
While flights to Afghanistan and Nepal get high security, other sectors like Colombo, Dhaka and even Yangon have now come into focus. Operations to Pakistan had been suspended earlier due to low traffic while Dhaka is connected by Air India Express.
Sources said private airlines operating in these sectors too would be sensitized.
While top officials like the National Security Advisor and the Home Secretary are to be kept regularly updated, authorities dealing with civil aviation security have been asked to step up gears and carry out frequent checks. Similarly, Immigration officials have been put on alert and are coordinating with security agencies of other countries.