New Delhi, Dec. 17: Indian agencies were tipped off by Israel five days ago about a possible terrorist strike during New Year celebrations in Goa, which attracts hordes of western and domestic tourists to its beach resorts.
A large number of Israeli tourists head for Goa each year during the festive season. India is a popular tourist destination for young Israelis and many of them come here to unwind after completing their compulsory military service.
Though Indian agencies have no independent confirmation about an attack, the government is taking the threat seriously. “We are taking all active, protective and preventive measures required to ensure that the terrorists’ plans to disrupt New Year celebrations in the beaches of Goa are defeated,” said a senior Indian official.
After the attack on a nightclub in Bali, Indonesia, and the strike on an Israeli-owned hotel in Mombasa recently, Goa, which attracts hundreds of Israeli and European tourists, seems a likely next target. Nobody in the government is willing to reveal the exact nature of the information given by the Israelis. Though al Qaida’s hand is suspected in both the Bali and Mombasa attacks, Indian officials rule out the possibility of Osama bin Laden’s group striking here.
“Any terrorist strike in India will have emanated from Pakistan’s ISI,” a senior intelligence official explained. “From past experience we know that any terrorist strike in this country can ultimately be traced back to Pakistan. The target and plans come from the ISI, while different groups may be used to carry out the plans,” he explained. But why should the ISI plan an attack on Goa' The answer is simple. Islamabad wants to destroy our tourism, pat came the reply.
India had kept the information under wraps till it was leaked in the Israeli press. “We don’t generally let out this kind of information because the terrorists will become doubly alert. However, if something slips out there is nothing we can do,” said the official.
An official of the Israeli foreign office confirmed that the “National Security Council and the counter-terrorism headquarters approached the foreign ministry after making an assessment about the possibility of a terror attack taking place on the beaches of Goa during huge celebrations on New Year’s Eve, where, we believe, there would be many Israelis”.
The embassy in New Delhi and consulate in Mumbai have been informed and instructed to convey this to the Indian authorities, he explained. Israel has also passed on the information to western embassies in Delhi.
The state government is now on alert and is keeping the Central agencies briefed on all developments.
“In such matters, we have perfect cooperation between the state and Central agencies, both sides need each other,” a senior officer said.
Intelligence sources believe that an attack in Goa, which will attract immediate headlines worldwide because of the number of foreigners here, will have to be carried out by a highly trained and motivated suicide squad. The terrorists are likely to be young, trying to pass off as backpackers.
As Goa is a peaceful state with no readymade terrorist base as in Kashmir, the Northeast or even Maharashtra, the terrorists will have to come from outside the state. This means all access points like airports, railway stations, roads and sealanes will have to be watched. The state police are already on the job, say officials.
All hotel registrations are being checked and smaller boarding houses are under surveillance. Many families also rent out rooms to tourists during the season. They will now be under watch, too. The state police have their work cut out.
Intelligence sources say India is very good at co-relating this kind of generic information and filling in the gaps. The state police, familiar with local conditions, do an excellent back up job in these cases.