December 17, 2014 / 6:12 PM / 3 years ago

India goes on security alert weeks before Obama trip

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - India has put security agencies on nationwide alert for a militant strike in the lead-up to a visit by U.S. President Barack Obama next month, citing an assault on a Pakistani school this week as a warning signal.

An advisory sent out on Tuesday to law enforcement agencies after the Pakistan Taliban stormed the Peshawar school, calls for increased security at vulnerable installations such as public transport, including railways, and schools.

India has repeatedly faced attacks blamed by India on Pakistan-based militant groups including the 2008 attacks on luxury hotels, a Jewish house and a train station in Mumbai in which 166 people were killed.

"It is felt that till the end of January 2015, the security forces and the intelligence agencies need to remain on a very high alert mode to prevent untoward incidents witnessed recently in the neighborhood as well as in other parts of the world," the home ministry said.

It named Lashkar-e-Taiba, the Pakistan-based group which carried out the Mumbai attacks, and the home-grown Indian Mujahideen tied to Pakistani militants as posing a threat.

Obama is due in India for Republic Day ceremonies on Jan. 26 the first time a U.S. president has attended the parade.

The ministry said Tuesday's attack on a school in Pakistan, in which 132 people were killed, and an incident in Sydney where a lone gunman took hostages in a cafe called for a heightened level of alert.

There was also the possibility of a lone wolf strike by a sympathizer of Islamic State, the group that has taken a swathe of Iraq and Syria and caught the imagination of radicalized Muslim youth in many countries.

"It is requested that law enforcement agencies should take all measures toward 'target hardening' of vulnerable places and installations. This includes public places with high footfalls, public transport including railways and schools in particular," said the advisory to security agencies, seen by Reuters.

In September, Al Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri announced the establishment of a South Asia branch of the group, deepening concerns in New Delhi that militant groups were turning their attention to Kashmir and elsewhere in India as foreign forces complete their pullout from Afghanistan by the end of December.

India announced a ban on Islamic State this week just days after it detained a food company executive for operating a popular Twitter account, cheering the group's successes.

Additional reporting by Aditya Kalra; Editing by Ralph Boulton

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