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Death threat grounds Indian team

Dhaka/New Delhi, Dec. 5: A little-known Islamic militant group has threatened to attack Indian cricketers scheduled to tour Bangladesh later this week, forcing postponement of the team's departure pending a security review.

Sourav Ganguly's boys were to leave on Tuesday but have now been asked by the Indian government to hold on until a Delhi team, being sent tomorrow to Dhaka, gives its report after making a security assessment.

India's deputy high commissioner S. Chakraborty earlier revealed having received by fax a hand-written letter from Harkat-ul-Jihad, suspected to be a front for Harkat-ul-Jihad Islamia, saying that the cricketers would be killed if they visited Bangladesh.

The letter said the players would be attacked to avenge the Gujarat riots in 2002 that killed over 1,000 people, most of them Muslims. It cited the revenge killing of 19 Israeli athletes by Palestinian commandos during the 1972 Olympics.

Yashovardhan Azad, IG, VIP security, will lead a team comprising officials of the home, external affairs and sports ministries to Dhaka to assess the threat perception. Azad had gone on a similar mission to Pakistan before the Indian team's visit for the Revival Series earlier this year.

Home minister Shivraj Patil said: 'Home and external affairs ministries will try to do whatever is needed on the security aspect.'

The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) said it had been told by the government that the players should not leave for Bangladesh before December 8.

Sports minister Sunil Dutt confirmed this, saying the BCCI had been asked to 'hold on till the government takes a decision on the tour'.

Starting December 9, the team is scheduled to play two Tests and three limited-over internationals in Bangladesh.

'So far as we are concerned, the Indian team's tour is on,' said Reazuddin Al Mamun, media committee chairman of the Bangladesh Cricket Board. 'We are very optimistic about holding the series peacefully and on schedule. A number of foreign teams have played in Bangladesh and no incident occurred.'

The Bangladesh board has already sent letters to the International Cricket Council, Indian cricket officials and the Indian high commission assuring them of adequate security.

A senior government official said in Delhi he did not think there was any danger of the tour being called off.

But the BCCI wants the government to put it in writing that there is no security risk to the players before the tour goes ahead.

Sourav declined comment, saying: 'Whatever decision is taken by the government and the board, we will follow it.'

'I have no idea about the group, how threatening it is. The case is sensitive and so my saying whether we wish to tour or not will not be right,' he told a TV channel.

Not much is known about the militant group that hit headlines in 1996 after its members allegedly attacked Bangladesh's leading poet Shamsur Rahman.

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