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Indian Defence Minister warns of air-borne terror threats, calls for alert

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Defence Minister A K Antony addresses the media after coming out of a meeting with Congress President Sonia Gandhi at 10 Janpath in New Delhi. PTI Photo

NEW DELHI (PTI): With India's coastal security already breached by terrorists in Mumbai, Defence Minister A K Antony has warned the armed forces of possible terror attacks from airborne platforms similar to the 9/11 attacks in the US.

Addressing a meeting of the three Services chief and defence officials here on Wednesday, Antony called for greater coordination among all security and intelligence agencies so as to make the intelligence inputs actionable.

He asked the forces to be prepared to counter the threat of terrorists from the air and prevent a repeat of World Trade Centre-type of attacks carried out by the Al Qaeda.

The meeting, attended by Navy chief Admiral Sureesh Mehta, Air Chief Marshal Fali Homi Major and Army chief General Deepak Kapoor and Defence Secretary Vijay Singh, also reviewed the situation along the Line of Control (LoC) with Pakistan in the wake of reports that its army was on a "high alert" following the Mumbai terror strike.

Antony, sources said, worked out measures with the armed forces for tightening security and vigil along the LoC to prevent infiltration of terrorists through the land route, as "Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK) is known to be an important area for recruitment and training of terrorists." The top defence brass discussed plans for beefing up coastal security and hastening acquisition process for systems and platforms including coastal radars and interceptor boats.

Of particular concern expressed at the meeting was the intelligence warning that airports around the country could be targets of terrorists, forcing the Bureau of Civil Aviation Security to issue a red alert to secure all important airports, sources added.

Though it was pointed out that intelligence agencies issued regular warnings just before important dates such as the Ayodhya complex demolition anniversary on December 6 and Republic Day on January 26, Defence ministry sources said Antony asked the forces, particularly the Air Force, to be more vigilant to prevent any such threat. Antony was particularly unhappy over the lack of coordination among various agencies, both defence and intelligence, so that the inputs from the latter could become actionable.

He expressed his dismay over the armed forces, particularly the Navy and the Coast Guard, not seeking specific details from intelligence agencies when they had warned about terror attacks through the sea route.

"The gaps existed from both sides of the security apparatus, be it the defence forces or the intelligence agencies. So, both must seek clarifications on points, warnings raised by the other and ensure the inputs are actionable so as not to be caught sleeping when Mumbai-type attacks take place," Defence ministry officials said.

During the security review of the LoC, sources said they discussed the problems of infiltration by terrorists from across the border, both through the land and sea routes.

With all points leading to the POK as the recruiting ground for terrorists targeting India and credible reports of training camps functioning there coming out, the minister assured the armed forces of making available all resources, be it personnel or equipment, to plug the holes in the border.

Similar assurances were given by Antony on the sea front too and his keenly discussing immediate acquisitions for coastal security indicated the serious intent in this regard, sources said, adding, "Greater vigil is required along the LoC, the coastal areas and in the third dimension. The country cannot afford laxity in any of the dimensions."

The crucial meeting has come a day after the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) chalked out plans for enhancing internal security through a variety of measures, including tough laws and establishment of a federal agency, to deal with terror attacks.

Earlier on Monday, Antony had held discussions with the Navy chief on steps to prevent recurrence of such attacks from the sea and strengthening of coastal security.

When the security forces were fighting the terrorists to rescue hostages and securing the important landmarks of Mumbai, the minister had called a couple of top-notch meetings in the South Block's war room last weekend too in connection with the security breach.

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