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India issues terror alert over possible hijacking

Image: Security personnel at the domestic airport in New Delhi, India
Security personnel keep vigil at the domestic airport in New Delhi, India, Friday. Gurinder Osan / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Indian airports were on high alert Friday after intelligence services received information that al-Qaida-linked militants were plotting to hijack a plane.

Such an attack would be the first major terror strike against India since 10 militants rampaged through the city of Mumbai for three days in November 2008, killing 166 people.

Aviation spokeswoman Moushumi Chakravarty said that the airports were placed on alert Thursday after the government received warnings from the intelligence agencies.

A report in The Indian Express newspaper, which Chakravarty confirmed, said intelligence officials had uncovered a plot by militants linked to al-Qaida and the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba group to hijack an Air India or Indian Airlines flight destined for a neighboring South Asian country.

U.K. Bansal, a top home ministry official, said security was tightened at all airports and passengers were being subjected to more intense security screenings. The India Express reported that sky marshals would also be deployed on flights around the region.

Indian media said the hijack threat was uncovered during the interrogation of Amjad Khwaja, a militant leader belonging to Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami, an extremist group involved in numerous terror attacks in India.

Khwaja was arrested in the southern Indian city of Chennai last week and was being questioned by Indian police.

The terror alert came just days after U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates warned that a syndicate of terror groups affiliated with al-Qaida was trying to foment a new war between India and Pakistan.

The nuclear-armed neighbors have fought three wars, and efforts to resolve their long-running dispute over the Kashmir region were frozen after the Pakistan-based militants attacked Mumbai in 2008.

Gates praised India for its restraint after the Mumbai attack, but expressed concern that the government would have a hard time reacting so cautiously if it were hit again.