Defence minister Manohar Parrikar said on Monday "circumstantial evidence" indicate the Pakistani boat, that was intercepted by Indian Coast Guard on New Year's night and sank off the coast of Porbander, had suspected terror links.
Parrikar's comments comes amid questions about the veracity of claims that a 2008 Mumbai attack-style operation had been foiled. There were also reports claiming the vessel was a fishing boat or one smuggling contraband and not carrying terrorists.
"There are speculations but I don't intend to be part of speculations except saying one very important aspect that the location (where the boat was found) is not a normal route for fishing boat," Parrikar told reporters on the sidelines of a defence ministry event.
Dismissing claims that the occupants of boat were smugglers, Parrikar said he would classify them as "suspected or possible terrorists" as the suicidal act of setting the boat on fire after being intercepted showed that they were "committed" and indicated suspected terror link.
"...circumstantial evidence indicates what I am saying," he said.
Parrikar said the boat was neither in a fishing area nor on any busy route preferred by smugglers to sneak in. He added that even
smugglers of gold, drugs and other contraband normally take a busy route since it is easy to hide and mingle with other boats.
"It does not indicate any type of smuggling activity but some other kind of activity. We are not sure what is that other kind," he said.
"Smugglers don't keep in touch with Pakistani maritime agency, or their army or international contacts".
He said intercepted satellite communication showed they were interacting about passing of cargo and talking about families of some of the boat members.
"A normal boat, even carrying some drugs, can throw away their drugs and surrender. No one is going to kill himself unless you are motivated enough to do that."
He said the actions of the boat men backs what he has said.
"Not speculating that it had explosives but it had some activity in mind that does not fit the description of smuggling boat. Which smuggler would commit suicide? That much I can say," Parrikar said.
The defence minister said the boat was in an isolated location when spotted by surveillance aircraft which tracked it for about 12 hours.
"The coast guard has done the right job at the right time based on intelligence inputs as they reacted immediately. The boat was on
surveillance for 12 hours and it was intercepted as soon as possible," he added.
Parrikar underlined that operating procedures for coast guard are clear.
"It was dark and it was laden with explosives... which appears to be at least partly correct. It could have induced injuries and damage to coast guard," he said.
Asked about the presence of a second boat, he said it was in Pakistani Exclusive Economic Zone.
Parrikar pointed out that intelligence inputs were very clear even about the exact position of the boat.
The Congress party has asked the government to come clean on the matter leading to a slug fest with the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party which accused the former of providing "ammunition to Pakistan" and speaking their language besides playing "petty politics" on terror.
According to reports, intelligence agencies had picked up phone intercepts from the boat near Karachi that "expensive cargo"was to be delivered near India.
On Friday, a possible 'terror' attack was averted when a suspicious fishing boat carrying explosives in the Arabian Sea was intercepted near the India-Pakistan maritime boundary, approximately 365 km away from Porbander.
The four people on board ignored warning shots from the coast guard and tried to flee but could not make it and set the boat on fire.
The boat sank in the early hours of January 1, and the people on board could not be saved or recovered.
Report out soon
Parrikar also said all details relating to the sinking of the Pakistani vessel would be released soon, adding India was in touch with Pakistani maritime officials and army.
"They are doing analysis. We will release it once they complete the analysis in 2-3 days. May be it will take four days. Let them do the analysis and after that we will release it."
(With inputs from PTI)