Security forces stepped up patrol in many parts of India and several cities were put on high alert as the country prepared to face down a flurry of militant threats against the Republic Day celebrations on Tuesday.
In New Delhi, where French President Francois Hollande is the chief guest at the celebrations, police put up posters of suspected militants and scrambled to locate a missing car with army stickers on it that they feared could be used to carry out attacks.
Police and army patrolled outside high-profile public places and the air force mounted its defence batteries around Rajpath, the venue of the main military parade in the city, to deal with threats from aircraft and missiles. Snipers had also been deployed.
Intelligence agencies have warned of possible attacks on shopping malls and public places in New Delhi and its suburbs, where police have set up bunkers. The city borders were being sealed off to heavy vehicles.
“We are on high alert as terrorists could attempt a strike to generate media hype. Also, the French president is the chief guest at the parade,” said an officer associated with the security arrangements.
Republic Day celebrations, which mark the adoption of the country’s constitution, are often the target of militant groups in troubled regions such as the northeast, but this year security agencies have warned of attacks by Islamist groups on more high-profile cities such as New Delhi.
Security worries worsened earlier this year following suspicion that several militants involved in the January 2 attack on an air base in Pathankot could be on the loose and planning to strike on Tuesday. The busting of what police say is an ISIS module in India has only added to their headache.
In Jammu and Kashmir, the state that’s most vulnerable to terror attacks, security was tightened on the Jammu-Pathankot national highway – to ensure that militants do not disrupt the Republic Day celebrations. In the Valley, barricades went up at many places to randomly search vehicles entering the city.
“The security apparatus has been tightened in all the places in Jammu, and round-the-clock security has been provided at all the Republic Day venues,” Ashook Wani, deputy inspector general of police, Jammu-Kathua Range, said.
Last week, the National Investigation Agency arrested as many as 14 people from across the country on charges of having links with the Islamic State.
Some of them have been accused of planning attacks on shopping malls in and around Delhi and on trains ferrying pilgrims to the four-month-long Ardh Kumbh festival now on in Haridwar. They have also been accused of trying to attack the festival itself, which is attended by tens of millions of people.