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Delhi cool to US warning

New Delhi, Aug. 11: The US today cautioned India of a “serious” possibility of terrorist attacks by al Qaida in New Delhi and/or Mumbai “in the days leading” to Independence Day on Tuesday but the Centre has decided to take the cautionary notice as just an “innocuous” warning.

The US alert rings louder against the backdrop of the allegedly foiled plot to blow up aircraft.

Part of the reason for the Centre’s lukewarm response — voiced by home secretary V.K. Duggal — is that threats of terrorist attacks are more frequent in India than in the US. Consequently, the responses are packaged into the “standard operating procedures” of security agencies at airports, railway stations and public spaces.

Duggal said: “There is nothing exceptional in it. It was a mere advisory and we have taken a note of it like any other intelligence input.”

The “warden message” put up by the US embassy in New Delhi for American citizens in India advises them not to visit hotels, airports and railway stations and places where there are large gatherings. A “warden message” is a notch higher than travel advisories the US issues to citizens overseas when it anticipates a threat.

US embassy sources, surprised at Delhi’s dismissive response, distinguish between the “warden message” issued today from other warnings put out since 9/11.

They say the message specifically mentions the potential attackers (“members of al Qaida”) and the possible targets (New Delhi and Mumbai).

Senior government sources see the Qaida alert as a Pakistani ploy. “If Qaida’s presence in India is established, Pakistan can wash its hand of all terrorist attacks,” said a home ministry official.

US embassy sources said the Indian government has been warned of the threat at several levels. A brief from the American embassy accompanied the “warden message” and was sent to the ministry of external affairs this morning.

“There’s a lot swirling right now, which is why we need to find ways to get the CT (counter-terrorism) dialogue energised again,” said the note.

The security notice issued by the American Citizen Services unit warned that locations in Delhi and Mumbai might be targeted between August 11 and 16. This could be in the form of a series of bombings and/or successive assaults.

The note also identified the likely targets — key central government offices and major gathering places such as hotels and markets. The message alerted “American citizens to maintain a low profile and be especially alert and attentive to their surroundings during this period”.

It was sent to nearly 65,000 Americans living in the country who have registered themselves with the embassy. The warden system alerts Americans living in a foreign country in the event of a terrorist threat or strike.

The message comes at a time when the Indian security establishment is already in a high state of alert as Independence Day celebrations have always been prone to terror strikes.

Dos and don’ts

  • Domestic passengers must reach airport 90 minutesbefore take-off
  • International travellers should arrive three hours ahead
  • All airlines to close counters 30 minutes before departure
  • Only baby food and medicines with prescription allowed
  • One piece of hand luggage for domestic flights
  • Ban on liquids and gels in baggage. No shampoos,beverages, toothpaste or
    suntan lotion
  • Cellphones, laptops allowed on domestic flights but as single item of hand luggage
  • Allow cabin baggage to go through manual check
  • Be prepared for personal frisking
  • Don’t come to airport in your own vehicle. All are being frisked. In Chennai, car parking has been temporarily disallowed
  • Do not bring too many friend

For UK-bound travellers

  • No hand luggage allowed
  • Electronic or battery operated items not allowed
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