India’s main airports were on a state of high alert Thursday amid fears that 14 terrorists given the same training as the Mumbai gunmen are preparing to mount a 9/11-type attack using hijacked passenger aircraft.
The Defense Minister, A. K. Antony, ordered the nation’s armed forces to be on guard against “terror strikes from the air” eight days after India suffered its worst terrorist attack in 15 years, when at least 10 gunmen struck targets including a hospital, two luxury hotels and a backpacker bar in south Mumbai, killing 171 people.
The India Bureau for Civil Aviation is thought to have been warned of plans to capture one or more aircraft at Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore or Madras airports, the main Indian transport hubs. Officials said that credible intelligence indicated a plan to attack a significant population center using an airliner in an assault that would resemble those made on New York and Washington in 2001.
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The warning recalled the Indian Airlines flight that was hijacked by Pakistani nationals on Christmas Eve 1999 as it flew from Kathmandu to Delhi. It landed in Afghanistan, where the hostages were released in exchange for three Islamist extremists.
Last night armed police were manning cordons at each airport and passengers were told to arrive three hours before their flights to go through bolstered security procedures. The Air Force said that fighter aircraft were being deployed and that plans to move anti-aircraft missiles to “high-value areas” were being studied.
Azam Amir Kasab, the sole Mumbai gunman to be caught alive, has told interrogators that he was one of 24 men being trained in militant camps in Pakistan. So far, only 10 — Kasab and nine others who were killed in Mumbai — have been accounted for.
“The whereabouts of the 14 missing men is of utmost concern,” a police source said. Interrogators hoped to extract more information from Kasab by subjecting him to narcoanalysis.