Strained cops, media turn tourists into terrorists in Odisha | india | Hindustan Times
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Strained cops, media turn tourists into terrorists in Odisha

The high security terror alert before Republic Day turned four Iranian tourists in Bhubhaneswar into suspected terrorists as local police became alarmed over their odd behaviour and local media added to the ‘terror’ frenzy.

india Updated: Jan 29, 2016 09:58 IST
Priya Ranjan Sahu
Odisha police
Odisha Police

The high security terror alert before Republic Day turned four Iranian tourists in Bhubhaneswar into suspected terrorists as local police became alarmed over their odd behaviour and local media added to the ‘terror’ frenzy.

Odisha police were frenetically tracking the movement of four Iranian nationals, including two women, after one of the men from the group attracted the attention of a policeman at a hotel. When asked to show his identity proof, the man left in a huff, leading to a search operation and increased security around the chief minister.

“They were under suspicion because of their strange behaviour while leaving the hotel in Bhubaneswar. But after investigations, it has been clarified that they have no terror links. They are tourists with proper passports and visas,” said Odisha special task force (STF) chief, Arun Bothra.

The group was detained at a police station in Andhra Pradesh on Wednesday evening, three nights after police began searching for them. Hours of interrogation later, the STF of Odisha’s crime branch and Andhra police discovered the Iranians were just tourists who had valid travel documents. The Iranian embassy also confirmed their citizens’ travel details to India.

The group now plans to continue their journey to Delhi via Bengaluru and Goa, police sources said.

The Iranians had left Delhi on January 5 in a hired car along with a driver and travelled through Rajasthan, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal and Assam before arriving in Bhubaneswar on January 25. They reached a hotel near the Bhubaneswar railway station at around 9 pm when police were carrying out a routine verification in view of Republic Day.

A man from the group reportedly went to the counter and asked for two rooms. As he haggled with the receptionist over the price in broken English, the hotel staff were alarmed and called the police who asked to see his passport.

The man allegedly claimed he would get it from his car, but instead left. A policeman who followed the Iranian to the car to check the identify proof, alerted his superiors who ordered a search operation that went on through the night.

Things turned for the worse when a local newspaper picked up the news and claimed “five terrorists” had escaped the police at a city hotel. Other local media soon followed suit.

The STF was called in to take over the investigation which managed to track the Iranians’ car heading towards Visakhapatnam. Amid the operation, another group of three Iranian nationals were also detained. They were travelling from Chhattisgarh to Odisha in a hired car and were stopped at Bargarh district, around 450 km from Bhubaneswar. The group however was let go after preliminary inquiries cleared them.