How vulnerable is Andhra coast to terror attacks?


Hyderabad : As terrorists unleashed mayhem in Mumbai after entering the city from the sea, the question cropping up in many minds is whether the long coastline of Andhra Pradesh is safe and how vulnerable it is to similar attacks.

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The state has 974 km long coast along the Bay of Bengal with several port cities like Visakhapatnam and Kakinada emerging as new economic hubs. Hyderabad, a key IT hub, suffered three bomb blasts last year killing over 50 people and is said to be on the hit list of several terror groups. Though not a port city, it is still vulnerable to surprise attacks.

The Indian Navy’s eastern naval command has its headquarters in Visakhapatnam. The city has several oil, gas, petrochemical and other key installations. But the coastline has no marine police and is considered vulnerable.

Police officials have also not ruled out the possibility of attacks similar to the ones in Mumbai taking place in Visakhaptnam or other coastal cities.

“We might face similar attacks and we have to be always on our toes to foil them,” said a police official in Visakhapatnam.

Home Minister K. Jana Reddy said the state would take steps to protect the coastline by intensifying patrolling and improving intelligence gathering. The state government also plans to seek expert advise on marine patrolling.

After the Mumbai attacks, top police officials here held brainstorming sessions to discuss their preparedness to deal with a similar situation. They privately admitted that the police administration was ill-equipped to handle such an attack.

The Hyderabad police lack Quick Reaction Teams (QRTs), especially trained to deal with terror attacks and hostage situations. As a temporary measure, the government has decided to deploy a unit of Greyhounds, the elite anti-Maoist force, in the city.

Series of terror incidents in the city during last couple of years, arrests of several youths on suspicion of links with Pakistan and Bangladesh-based terror groups and their suspected involvement in attacks in other parts of the country prove the vulnerability of Hyderabad.

The police also fear revenge attacks by groups, which allege “persecution” of innocent Muslim youths in the name of fighting terrorism. Stories of alleged excesses on the youths during detention has attracted the attention of media and international human rights organisations.

The city had witnessed a suspected suicide attack in 2003 when a man, later identified as a Bangladeshi, blew himself up at the office of police commissioner’s task force in Bengumpet area near the chief minister’s official residence. One policeman was killed in the attack.

The interrogation of few suspects by the police revealed that Bangladesh-based Harkatul Jihad-e-Islami carried out the attack to take revenge for the alleged excesses committed by the task force in various terror cases.

The terrorists involved in Mumbai attacks tried to exploit the situation by calling themselves as ‘Deccan Mujahideen’. One of the attackers, who called up a television channel, even claimed that he was a Hyderabadi.

However, the police officials here pointed out that his Urdu accent was Sindhi and not Hyderabadi. The home minister also denied that the terrorists involved in Mumbai attacks had any links with the city.