January 22, 2010 / 6:56 AM / 10 years ago

India warns of hijack threat to national carrier

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - The Indian interior ministry has recommended extra security measures for Indian airlines after intelligence on a threat from militants to hijack a plane of the national carrier Air India, officials said on Friday.

A soldier from the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) speaks with passengers at a security check-post outside the domestic airport in Mumbai January 22, 2010. REUTERS/Punit Paranjpe

The warning comes ahead of India’s annual Republic Day on Tuesday, when there are often security scares.

Security officials said they have put the country’s air defences on the highest possible alert after intelligence agencies warned the interior ministry of possible air attacks by Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba using gliders.

India has beefed-up security measures and remains wary of militant threats after the 2008 Mumbai attacks killed 166 people and raised tensions with nuclear-armed neighbour Pakistan.

“We have alerted our civil aviation security people against a possible attempt to hijack an Indian airlines flight,” U.K. Bansal, the special secretary for internal security in the Home (interior) Ministry, told Reuters.

“This would obviously be from terrorist groups who are arraigned against Indian interests,” he added, but did not specify which group.

An Air India spokesman did not offer any immediate comment on the threat.

The ministry had not recommended suspension of flights, but suggested measures such as greater frisking and deploying more sky marshals, Bansal said.

The biggest hijack threat was to flights by the carrier to and from the SAARC bloc of neighbouring nations, he said.

The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation is made up of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

The Indian Air Force said it was taking extra precautions after receiving intelligence on a possible air attack.

“The air force is on high alert, although use of sophisticated gliders by militants to carry out attacks seems unlikely. But we are not leaving anything to chance,” a senior air force official said in New Delhi.

The Indian government was criticised for its handling of the Mumbai rampage. India is now spending millions on new security measures, from commando bases in cities to navy patrols and better intelligence gathering. (Additional reporting by Bappa Majumdar; Editing by Alistair Scrutton and Bill Tarrant)

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