| A CISF guard in Hyderabad airport on Thursday. (AP)
Nov. 9: An alert has been sounded at the country’s airports, particularly in the south, after a crumpled scrap of paper left in an airport lobby threatened bomb attacks by al Qaida.
Aviation and home ministry officials said the unsigned and hand-written letter, picked off the floor at Tiruchirappalli airport by cleaning staff, seemed a hoax. “But we cannot take chances,” civil aviation secretary Ajay Prasad said.
The alert is highest in four Tamil Nadu airports — Chennai, Coimbatore, Madurai and Tiruchirappalli — and in Thiruvananthapuram and Kochi in Kerala.
The letter in Tamil warned the Trichy airport manager that “al Qaida terrorists” had planted “modern explosives” at the four Tamil Nadu airports and a few unnamed ones in Kerala. It also threatened car bomb attacks at these airports by 10 al Qaida terrorists.
Since last night, a day after the letter’s discovery, parking rules were tightened in Tamil Nadu airports but visitors have not been barred.
Cars, taxis and auto-rickshaws must leave within 90 seconds after dropping off passengers and visitors. Cars waiting for passengers of delayed incoming flights need special permission that must be renewed every three hours. All vehicles are being checked by bomb experts.
Baggage will be screened twice, including one at ladder point, for at least a week. Restrictions are likely on carrying liquids and gels.
State intelligence “spotters” will mingle with passengers to watch suspects and marshals will man sensitive flights. Airlines have been asked to equip planes with the latest communications equipment, keeping in mind a hijack threat.
Passengers will be asked to reach airports an hour early.
A Tamil Nadu police officer said the letter’s title, “Allah Osama”, suggested a hoax as no Muslim would combine Allah’s name with a man’s. Also, the letter’s failure to name the airports in Kerala undermined its credibility.