Indian police said on Thursday they were taking seriously a specific US warning of possible attacks on New Delhi shopping centres, an alert that underlines challenges for a city hosting the Commonwealth Games in October. Threats to sporting events were underscored last week when bombs exploded outside a packed cricket stadium in south India, stirring fears the country may not be able to secure multi-city events involving tens of thousands of players and spectators.
India is also holding next year’s cricket World Cup across eight cities.
The U.S. advisory issued on Wednesday spoke of “increased indication that terrorists” are planning to attack some of New Delhi’s markets frequented by foreigners. Some of these markets have been bombed in the past.
“Every bit of input is important. We are in a permanent state of alertness, but when we have a specific input we sensitise our staff to any special security needs,” said Rajan Bhagat, spokesman for Delhi Police. Police say the alert underscored their suspicion that security at Games venues may prompt militants to turn to softer targets.
Officials said the basis of the US travel alert was intercepted telephonic messages of Pakistan-based militant groups. “We are aware of the nature of the inputs the US State Department has,” UK Bansal, a senior Interior Ministry official, told Reuters. New Delhi and other Indian cities are already on high alert, but the specific nature of the U.S. advisory prompted the authorities to hold several security review meetings on Thursday.
Australia and Britain have also issued travel advisories for India.
Security agencies routinely intercept messages exchanged between militant networks, but officials said the highly detailed alert had prompted immediate action, including tighter security.
“We had part of this alert already, and now with the US alert we have activated our forces further, especially in markets,” special police commissioner Neeraj Kumar said.
India raised security in the aftermath of a bombing that killed 17 people in western India in February, the first major attack in the country since the 2008 Mumbai attacks that killed 166 people.
Australia warns citizens
Australia today warned its citizens to exercise a high degree of caution and avoid some of the shopping areas and markets in India’s national capital New Delhi because of the “high risk” of terrorist activity.
The Australian warning comes a day after the US Embassy in New Delhi yesterday asked its citizens in India to refrain from visiting congested areas of Delhi following “increased indications” of terrorists planning attacks.
Though Australia has not upgraded its travel advisory on India but the department of foreign affairs and Trade today updated its travellers’ website to give information about the new warnings.
“On 21 April, the United States and Canada issued separate warnings about possible attacks against markets frequented by foreigners in New Delhi.
“According to these warnings, specific and credible information suggests that markets including Chandni Chowk, Connaught Place, Greater Kailash, Karol Bagh, Mehrauli, and Sarojini Nagar could be targeted by terrorists in the coming days or weeks. We strongly advise Australians to minimize their presence in market areas of New Delhi,” it said.
It further asked visitors to pay close attention to their personal security at all times and monitor the media for information about possible new safety or security risks.
“Terrorist attacks could occur at any time anywhere in India with little or no warning,” it said.
“We continue to receive reporting of possible threats against prominent business and tourist locations, including in Mumbai and New Delhi. Credible reporting suggests that terrorists may be planning attacks in India directed at hotels frequented by foreigners, including perceived western owned hotels,” it said.
Citing that there was a continuing threat from terrorism throughout India and major secular and religious holidays could provide terrorist groups an opportunity or pretext to stage an attack, it said: “We judge that terrorists may target prominent religious sites such as the Ram temple site in Ayodhya in Uttar Pradesh... We advise travellers to register their travel and contact details in advance of their trip.”