PANAJI, India – Indian officials on Thursday urged tourists not to boycott the palm-fringed resorts of Goa after Israel warned its citizens away from the popular tourist destination, citing concrete threats of an Al Qaeda attack.
"We have taken all possible steps to secure all the citizens who come here, all the tourists," Goa's Chief Minister Pratapsingh Rane told reporters.
Israel on Wednesday issued an urgent warning of an impending Al Qaeda attack in the Indian west coast region of Goa, a popular destination for Israeli backpackers. It warned of a "concrete threat" of an Al Qaeda attack in the area in the next few weeks.
This is peak tourist season in Goa, a former Portuguese colony renowned for its palm tree-lined white sandy beaches, resorts and hedonistic parties, and tens of thousands of foreigners, including many Israelis, are expected to be there.
Security officials in Goa denied they had received any reports of an impending attack.
"We have no independent information at all on this issue. In fact it has come as a complete surprise," Goa Deputy Inspector General of Police Ujjwal Mishra told the Press Trust of India news agency.
"So to single out Goa as being threatened by these (terrorist) forces, I think, is very unfair," he said, accusing Israel of failing to share their information with the local authorities.
While India has suffered dozens of terror attacks in recent years, none of them have been linked to Al Qaeda. However, security analysts believe that the group may have informal links with Pakistani-based Islamic militants, most notably Lashkar-e-Tayyaba, who are fighting to wrest control of Indian-held Kashmir from India.
A dozen-odd groups want have been fighting since 1989 for the independence of the Muslim majority Himalayan region from mainly Hindu India or a union with mostly Muslim Pakistan.
Locals said they believed that the warning would not hurt their season too badly, because while plenty of Israelis visited Goa, they were not crucial to the industry.
"Since Goa relies more heavily on markets in Germany, the U.K. and Scandinavia, a travel advisory of the sort from those countries would have probably snowballed into cancellations," Ralph D'Souza, a Goa-based hotelier and president of the local travel association told The Associated Press.
And Israelis said that being used to terror threats back home, they were unlikely to leave.
"There's nothing to worry about ... Parents called and told us to leave immediately, and we'll see what happens in the next few days. As of now, we have no plans to leave," Israeli backpacker Noa Elalouf, 22, told the Israeli daily Maariv.
Another traveler, Nir Rokah, told the paper: "Even if there's a tsunami, it won't matter to us. We're chilling out, and we're not afraid of anything."Click here for more news from Asia.