Indian airports on high alert after hijack warning

By Sanjay Singh, IANS

New Delhi : The Indian government has asked airports around the country to adopt “heightened security measures” after an intelligence tip off that the United Liberation Front of Asom (Ulfa) may attempt to hijack an aircraft to free their colleagues from jails.

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The Bureau of Civil Aviation Security (BCAS) has alerted airports in the four metros, the northeast, as well as in Hyderabad, Bangalore and some international airports like in Amritsar as potential targets ahead of Republic Day.

The threat from any other terrorist outfit also cannot be ruled out, said a Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) official.

According to a BCAS official, the Ulfa hijack attempt could likely be in the northeast.

“The Ulfa is prepared for this daring act to draw the attention of the international community,” said a senior official in the union home ministry.

“As the Ulfa has not acted so far, they could well do it even now. They haven’t given up. They may be looking for a suitable moment to strike,” said a senior BCAS official.

Over 600 Ulfa militants are in jails around the country. A few of them were “masterminds” arrested during the raid on their camps by the Bhutan government in 2002.

Official sources confirmed that a red alert has been sounded in airports across the country. Paramilitary forces have been deployed at all airports, especially in the north east, and army units near the airports asked to stand by.

Emergency anti-hijacking measures and multi-layered security arrangements have been put in place at most of the crucial airports in the northeast. This is the third such warning against the Ulfa from BCAS. Two earlier warnings were issued in 2004.

The DGCA has issued an advisory to all states to beef up security at vital installations, while the union home ministry has asked states to take special measures to protect VIPs and other distinguished people at airports.

The government regularly issues advisory to states, especially before Republic Day, Independence Day and major religious festivals, to remain on alert and take measures to thwart attempts of militant organisations and Maoists.

The threat to Air India is always higher compared to the private airlines, admit officials.

Reviews by airline authorities and intelligence agencies have revealed major security lapses at airports, which are generally guarded by state police. About 25 airports are manned by the Central Industrial Security Force personnel.