Panic grips schools in Delhi over bomb hoax | Latest News India - Hindustan Times
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Panic grips schools in Delhi over bomb hoax

May 02, 2024 05:32 AM IST

Of the 254 schools, 242 were in Delhi, fourin Noida, two in Ghaziabad, and six in Gurugram, and the threat affected several thousands of students in these four cities

Panic ensnared Delhi and the National Capital Region (NCR) on Wednesday morning after 254schools in and around the city received bomb threats over email, prompting institutions to hurriedly evacuate thousands of alarmed students midway through their classes, even as security forces launched sweeping checks across dozens of campuses.

Security personnel outside Sanskriti School, in New Delhi, on Wednesday. (Vipin Kumar/ Hindustan Times)
Security personnel outside Sanskriti School, in New Delhi, on Wednesday. (Vipin Kumar/ Hindustan Times)

Anxious parents swarmed outside school gates to get their children to safety and teachers scrambled to vacate institutions before Delhi Police, around 12pm, confirmed that the threats appeared to be a coordinated hoax. All schools received the same threat, which was sent from the same ID.

Still, police cranked up security across the city, setting up cordons and keeping emergency response vans on standby outside major schools, even as Delhi education minister Atishi said officials were in constant touch with the police and schools and asked parents not to panic.

Of the 254 schools, 242 were in Delhi, fourin Noida, two in Ghaziabad, and six in Gurugram, and the threat affected several thousands of students in these four cities. Some of the city’s top institutions were affected, including Delhi Public Schools, Sankskriti School, Amity International, Bal Bharati Public Schools, GD Goenka, and DAV Public Schools.

“Some schools in Delhi received bomb threats through email. Responding to the situation, Delhi Police conducted thorough checks of all such schools as per protocol. However, nothing objectionable has been found so far. It appears that these calls seem to be hoax,” a Delhi Police spokesperson said.

The 281-word long email said there “are many explosive devices in the school” and quoted two phrases from the Quran, apart from a litany of violent threats. However, there was no clarity on the identity of the sender, said investigators.

The threats, said police, were all sent from a “mail.ru” domain – which is based out of Russia, but can be accessed from any location – that was also used to previously send a bomb threat to The Indian School on April 2 last year. In that case, police told the court that they were unable to trace a culprit because he masked his IP address using a virtual private network (VPN).

Schools in Delhi have received a string of bomb threats over the past couple of years.

Between November 2022 and May 2023, four schools in the city received five hoax bomb threats, and the suspects are yet to be identified in any case.

The chaos spilled onto the streets, with traffic on key roads, including on Mathura Road, Saket, Pushp Vihar and Mayur Vihar, crawling as parents rushed to their children and school buses took students back home.

Delhi Public School in Dwarka Sector 3 was the first to report the threat. A school staffer read the email around 5.45am, after which the administration informed local police, who sent in a bomb disposal team and dog squad 10 minutes later.

However, the school had not opened for the day and officers were able to comb through empty classrooms and laboratories.

“We checked each floor and found nothing suspicious,” said deputy commissioner of police (Dwarka) Ankit Singh.

Still, the DPS administration called off classes for the day and alerted parents and students about a holiday.

Himanshu Gogia, 38, whose five-year-old son studies in the school, said he received a message regarding the closure at 6.13am.

“They sent a message saying that the school will remain closed for students and staff due to unavoidable circumstances. All the events were also postponed,” he said.

“We found out soon a while later when the news started circulating on WhatsApp that the school had received a bomb threat.”

Still, DPS in Dwarka Sector 3 was one of the few not in session when they reported the threat. Classes had begun in a bulk of the 254 schools when authorities came across the threat, prompting them to cut off classes and activities abruptly, alert police and inform parents, even as they worked to keep frenzy at bay.

“I got a call from the school in the morning around 9am that I should come and take my child,” said Pooja Chaudhary, whose daughter is a nursery student at Amity International in Saket.

The scale of the threats became apparent over the next few hours, however, as police station after police station was bombarded with phone calls from panicked school authorities reporting bomb threats emails.

By 8am, at least three schools had reported the threats and the number continued to snowball through the day.

As the quantum of complaints ballooned, local police stations alerted the force’s brass, who then deployed personnel to conduct thorough checks of each school.

Teams comprising bomb detection specialists, local police and dog squads filed into schools, even as police cordons were set up outside schools. Many schools, meanwhile, packed students into their own buses, even as others waited for parents to pick their children up.

A Class 7 student of DPS Vasant Kunj who lives Rajouri Garden in west Delhi said, “We were not told about a bomb threat. The teachers just took us to the ground, where we stayed till the buses took us back home,” he said.

Principals of private schools HT spoke to said that the evacuation process was smooth.

“The safety of our students was our utmost priority. We evacuated all students and teachers immediately after receiving the email and alerted the police,” said Anita Khosla, principal of GD Goenka Public School in Dwarka.

The panic also spread to hundreds of schools that had not been sent threats. Delhi has roughly 2,064 private recognised schools.

At Sarvodaya Kanya Vidyalaya in Tilak Nagar, parents queued outside s`chools to get their children out of class after hearing about the emails.

“I saw on TV that several schools had received a bomb threat so I came to pick my daughter up. I didn’t want to take a risk,” said Kavita Devi, whose daughter studies in Class 9.

A teacher at the school who did not wish to be identified said that they were trying to convince the parents not to be scared but in vain.

Preliminary investigation showed that the sender used a Russian email service provider and there was a possibility the email was routed though the multiple IP addresses, making it difficult to track where it originated, a police officer said. Some of schools received the email from a single ID, “sawariim@mail.ru”. There could be other email addresses involved with information still being collected on the IDs used to send the email to other schools.

“There is likelihood that the IP addresses may be associated with a VPN and establishing their connection will be a challenge. We will take the Interpol’s help by sending it a Demi Official (DO) letter, seeking the registration details of the email addresses. The Russian company will also be approached to help us with the details of the registrant,” the second officer added.

Special Commissioner of Police (Law and Order) Ravindra Yadav said the situation was unprecedented.

“This was an unprecedented situation and though it later turned out to be a hoax, the police take each and every call seriously. We could not take any chances,” Yadav said, calling on students to remain vigilant and to avoid panicking in any such situation.

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