Security was tightened at Delhi airport on Sunday after intelligence agencies warned that terrorists could try to hijack an Air India flight between the national capital and Kabul in the run-up to Republic Day and US President Barack Obama’s visit to India.
Officials said a specific input was received on Saturday about a possible hijack attempt similar to a 1999 incident when terrorists took over Indian Airlines flight IC 814 from Indian airspace and flew it to Kandahar in Afghanistan.Sources said Air India flights between India and Afghanistan, especially those carrying Indian diplomats, were likely to be targeted by militants at the behest of Pakistan’s spy agency, ISI.
Apart from screening passengers twice, Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) personnel were keeping a close watch on Air India’s cleaning crew, said sources.
“Even the catering van is sanitised and security staff of Air India is asked to check the plane before boarding. Baggage of passengers is checked for any suspicious items,” said a senior CISF official.
Sources said sky marshals trained to thwart hijack attempts had been deployed in Air India flights, while other international airports were also on alert.
“We are conducting a second security check of passengers just before they enter the aircraft (at the ladder point). Once the passengers are seated in the plane, our crew has been instructed to get the cabin baggage verified with the passengers again,” an Air India official said. “Also, at the time of issuing the boarding pass a detailed examination of the passport is being done.”
Air India spokesperson GP Rao told news agency IANS that their control room in Kolkata received a hoax call on Saturday from an unknown person who said the Kolkata-Kabul flight would be hijacked.
Indians in Afghanistan have been frequent targets of militant attacks – the last major one took place at the Indian Consulate in Herat in May 2014 involving four heavily-armed terrorists. The gun-battle to sanitise the place lasted several hours Sources in the Bureau for Civil Aviation Security (BCAS) said CISF had been asked to put more men in its anti-hijacking team and had formed a “sweeping-squad” comprising profiling experts.
“Their job is to identify suspicious passengers as soon as they enter the airport. The members of this squad have been placed across the airport,” a BCAS official said.
During the 1999 hijack, India had to release three terrorists – Mushtaq Ahmed Zargar, Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh and Maulana Masood Azhar— from prison in return for the 174 passengers and 11-member crew.
The Pakistan-based terror outfit Harkat-ul-Mujahideen was believed to have carried out the attack, in which one passenger was stabbed to death by the hijackers.