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On possible terror attack in Mumbai, intel says key threat from sleeper cells

The official said the sea route, quite like the one taken by the ten 26/11 Mumbai attackers, appeared impractical for the next few weeks due to the sea conditions.

india Updated: Aug 09, 2019 19:17 IST
Shishir Gupta
Shishir Gupta
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
A police commando stands guard by the sea coast at Geeta Nagar, Colaba, after a high alert was issued in Mumbai, on September 23, 2016.
A police commando stands guard by the sea coast at Geeta Nagar, Colaba, after a high alert was issued in Mumbai, on September 23, 2016. (HT file photo for representation)
         

An attack by Pakistan-backed terror groups in coastal cities such as Mumbai could be carried out by sleeper cells already inside the country rather than fresh batches sent by the sea route, a senior intelligence official said on Friday.

The official said the sea route, quite like the one taken by the ten 26/11 Mumbai attackers, appeared impractical for the next few weeks due to the sea conditions.

“It is unlikely that the terrorists would venture to take the Arabian Sea route at a time when the sea is choppy due to the southwest monsoon,” the official quoted above said against the backdrop of the Navy sounding an alert along with country’s coastline.

The Indian Navy advice to naval bases to step up security takes this assessment into account, a naval officer said. The Navy’s Mumbai base is the headquarters of its western command. Karwar in northern Karnataka is the country’s largest naval base.

Intelligence agencies have picked up strands of information that indicate sleeper cells linked to the Jaish-e-Mohammed have already been activated.

Also read | Terror attack from Pak via sea possible, Navy sounds alert along coast

The information coincides with inputs about the activity in terror camps across the Line of Control and the Jaish, which had been targeted in the Balakot air strikes, sending Rauf Azghar, the younger brother of its chief Maulana Masood Azahar, to Pakistan-occupied Kashmir to oversee operations.

Already, public statements by Pakistan’s civil and military leadership, riled by New Delhi’s scrapping Article 370 and turning the state into centrally-administered territories, have spoken about going all out to back the people of Kashmir in their struggle.

Islamabad has downgraded diplomatic ties and suspended the already negligible bilateral trade between the two countries besides stopping the two goodwill trains, Samjhauta and Thar Express.

The Indian security establishment, however, believes that this may only be the starting point. A terror attack with some amount of built-in deniability for Islamabad’s agencies could be next, a security official said.

Sleeper cells - people who may have been radicalised and motivated enough to carry out attacks but not assigned a task - fit this criteria too.

At one point in the back and forth over Article 370, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan did say that India’s decision could lead to “Pulwama-like incidents”, even trigger a conventional war between India and Pakistan. It was a remark that was read by intelligence officials to indicate efforts to ramp up its support to terror groups, even push terror groups to throw all that they had.

Also read | Hafiz Saeed, 26/11 mastermind, charged with terror financing in Pakistan court

First Published: Aug 09, 2019 19:09 IST