Tuesday, February 23, 2010

India vows to counter terrorist threat

India has pledged tight security for upcoming sporting events beginning at the weekend in New Delhi with the Hockey World Cup and culminating in the Commonwealth Games later this year.

But anxiety persists in the city over the possibility of trouble.

Threats from the 313 Brigade, an operational arm of al Qaeda, to wreak havoc across India - particularly when international teams are gathered in Delhi and other major cities - until the Indian Army pulled out of the northern disputed Jammu and Kashmir province, have panicked many participants and security officials.

In a message to Asia Times Online last week - shortly after the bombing of a popular eatery in India's western city of Pune in which 15 people, including some foreigners, died - 313 Brigade head Ilyas Kashmiri warned the international community not to send teams to either the Hockey World Cup, the Indian Premier League cricket (IPL) that follows next month, or the Commonwealth Games in October.

"Nor should their people visit India - if they do, they will be responsible for the consequences" the terrorist leader ominously declared, reiterating his demand for an independent Kashmir state where over 70,000 people have died in the Islamic insurgency since 1989.

Kashmiri also said that his group was seeking revenge for the demolition of a 16th century mosque in northern India by Hindu zealots in December 1992 that led to sectarian violence in which over 1000 people died, and the extended pogrom of Muslims in western Gujarat state in 2002 that claimed over 1100 lives.

But federal Home Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram said: "We are committed to providing security to everybody, including coaches, players, officials and whosoever participates."

Federal Home Ministry sources said all 12 World Cup Hockey teams would be provided with an armed escort. Maximum security, however, would be provided to the Pakistani and Australian teams.

"The players will be given armed escorts every time they travel to the Dhyan Chand Stadium [the match venue] and back. Australia will get maximum security because of the recent attacks on Indian students in Australia. Pakistan will get adequate security as always," a senior police official said.

"We are taking the World Cup as a dry run for the Commonwealth Games. It will be a full-fledged rehearsal," Delhi police spokesman Rajan Bhagat said. It was evident that dependence was on massive force at all venues.

At the ongoing Commonwealth Shooting Championships in Delhi, security personnel with rifles outnumber the participants inside the stadium.

Scotland's Graham Rudd, taking part in the competition which is the first event in the run-up to the Commonwealth Games, said he was surprised but pleased by the high level of security.

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