Thousands of people offered prayers in Shiva temples under tight security on Monday as the Centre put out a multi-city alert for possible strikes at religious places by a group of terrorists believed to have sneaked into the country.
Union home minister Rajnath Singh met top officials of the Intelligence Bureau and Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW) in the wake of an input by Islamabad about the possible infiltration of 10 terrorists from Pakistan.
While police discovered an abandoned boat off the Koteshwar coast in Gujarat, it was not clear if any terrorist has landed on Indian soil.
Officials said security has been tightened at religious places like Somnath Temple in Gujarat and Kashi Vishwanath in Uttar Pradesh in view of the Shivratri celebrations on Monday.
Security measures have also been enhanced in Capital Delhi where the Parliament session in on.
Tier two cities like Lucknow, Jaipur, Vijaywada, Bhopal, Chandigarh, Ahmedabad and Panaji have been alerted about possible attacks besides Mumbai, Hyderabad, Cyberabad and Bangalore, officials said.
In Somnath, devotees passed through eight layers of security and policemen on horseback patrolled the beach near the temple where the Centre deployed a team of the crack National Security Guards (NSG).
“Apart from Somnath, security has also been beefed up at two other Shiva temples at Bhavnath and Nageshwar,” said Gujarat director general of police PC Thakur.
Bhavnath is located at foothill of Mount Girnar, where several lakh sadhus from across India come together to mark Shivratri.
Police said details of SIM cards sold in the last two months are being scanned by a joint team of anti-terrorist squad and crime branch. 10 people have been detained for questioning.
IANS quoted an official as saying in Lucknow that heavy security has been put in place at important Shiv temples in Uttar Pradesh and special security checks were in place at the Kashi Vishwanath temple in Varanasi.
Vigil is also being maintained on big and small temples in places like Kanpur, Agra, Lucknow, Faizabad, Gorakhpur and Azamgarh, the official said.
Police was keeping a close eye on the ‘kanwarias’ – Shiva devotees who carry holy Ganges water for offering at temples -- as there was an apprehension that they may be targeted by terror outfits.
Bhagwan Swarup, inspector general in-charge of law and order said as part of the multi-city alert, district police chiefs have been asked to carry out checks at crowded places.
In Delhi, a meeting of the top brass of police was held following which all deputy commissioners were instructed to heighten vigil in their districts.
Police presence and patrolling around temples which were teeming with devotees, popular markets, iconic buildings and other places like metro stations, railway stations and bus terminus, which witness very high footfall, has been stepped up, a senior official said.
Security personnel have also been deployed across Delhi’s crowded markets while they checked vehicles and frisked visitors at religious sites.
The Pakistani NSA’s tip-off is being cited as an unprecedented action by Islamabad at a time when New Delhi has linked any progress in peace talks with its neighbour with action against anti-India militant groups said to be behind the January attack on an Indian air base in Punjab’s Pathankot district.
A senior NSG officer told HT that though the threat is limited to Gujarat, an alert has been sounded across the country, leaving nothing to chance. Security sources said dangers posed by a group of 10 attackers, who can divide themselves into at least five teams, cannot be brushed aside.
(With agency inputs)