Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Commonwealth Games terror attacks `inevitable'

REGIONAL security experts watching Commonwealth Games preparations in Delhi have warned that a terror strike aimed at derailing the biggest sporting event held in India is virtually inevitable and the only question is when and where it will occur.

While Games organisers have reacted angrily to recent claims that athletes face a high risk of terror attacks during the October 3-14 event, South Asia security experts in India, Britain, Australia and the US consulted by The Australian have all questioned India's ability to effectively repel a strike before or during the event.

"The problem is the sheer number of militant actors running around India today that could carry out a terrorist attack," said Scott Stewart, vice-president of tactical intelligence with US-based security analysis agency Stratfor.

"You can lock down a stadium but you have the issue of crowds trying to get in. That crowd will be incredibly vulnerable to an attack before they get through security.

"The likelihood is very high that India will face attacks. It's not a matter of if; it's going to be a matter of when and where."

India's outgoing national security adviser M.K. Narayanan conceded earlier this week that the country faced likely attempted terror strikes during the games and suggested Pakistan -- or its proxy terror agents -- would be responsible.

But Mr Scott said India faced multiple threats from Pakistan-based militants to the west, groups in Bangladesh and internally from Kashmir and Maoist-held regions -- which could have been plotting a strike for as long as Delhi has been planning the event.

Australian National University counter-terrorism expert Clive Williams yesterday said the two most likely threats were from Kashmiri separatist groups wishing to embarrass India, and from militants targeting athletes from countries such as Canada, Australia and Britain, with troops in Afghanistan.

"In the 2001 attack on (Delhi's national) parliament, (terrorists) had passes from the Interior Ministry and parliament, and wore military uniforms," Dr Williams said. "They may well have inside support again, and if they're wearing military or police uniforms and driving a military-style vehicle those kinds of circumstances would be very difficult to deal with."

Ajay Sahni, editor of the South Asia Intelligence Review and head of the Delhi-based Institute for Conflict Management, said while India could sustain sufficient security for the duration of the Commonwealth Games, Delhi would be most vulnerable in the months leading up to the event.

The Commonwealth Games Federation has been at pains to dispel fears of a terror strike amid concerns that athletes, or whole teams, could pull out. CGF chief executive Mike Hooper said he was confident India would deliver a secure environment.

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