Security agencies guarding the country’s airports have been put on high alert after military intelligence warned of a possible attempt by the Indian Mujahideen (IM) to hijack an aircraft in order to barter the release of its arrested lynchpin, Yasin Bhatkal.
The alert by an military intelligence unit based in Jammu, the result of intercepted phone calls, has led to the frisking of passengers both at airport entry points and the security check area, followed by another check in the aerobridge or at the base of the ladder leading to the aircraft.
Bhatkal, the head of IM’s Indian operation and an ace bomb-maker, has been grilled by interrogators ever since his arrest on the Nepal border on August 27, and is understood to have disclosed a wealth of information that could jeopardise the terror group’s future projects.
Authorities are keen to prevent a situation like the 1999 hijack of an Indian Airlines aircraft to Kandahar, a drama that ended only after the hijackers successfully negotiated the release of Jaish-e-Mohammad chief Maulana Masood Azhar and two others. IM is currently run remotely by Riyaz and Iqbal Bhatkal -- no relation to Yasin -- who are based in Karachi, Pakistan.
Authorities at the Indira Gandhi International Airport in Delhi confirmed the high-level alert, and said security measures have been tightened. Baggage is being scanned more carefully, and staff posted at airports are being subjected to greater scrutiny, with their Airport Entry Pass (AEP) checked more carefully.
“Our intelligence unit is keeping an eye on suspicious movement. There have been instances of staff gaining entry on forged passes and staff posted at gates have been asked to look for such passes,” said an official of the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF), the organisation charged with airport security across the country.
According to sources in the Bureau for Civil Aviation Security (BCAS), CISF has been asked to put more men in anti-hijacking team. The CISF has formed a ‘sweeping-squad’ and those who are trained in profiling are part of it.
“Their job is to identify suspicious passenger as soon as they enter the airport. The members of this squad have been placed across the airport,” a BCAS official said.
Checking at the base of the ladder or in the aerobridge, termed secondary ladder point checking (SLPC), is conducted when the threat is at its highest level. Passengers have to undergo complete frisking just before entering the aircraft.
Presently only a few airlines, notably those going to United States conduct SLPC; now the domestic airlines have been asked to carry out the process, either at the aerobridge or in the apron area.