Security revamp after recent kidnap of UK couple

The surveillance system at the Chennai Airport is in for a revamp, with security agencies seeking to bring the entire premises, particularly the concourse abutting the arrival/departure gates, under the purview of the Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) network.

A high-level meeting of senior police and airport officials held on Tuesday discussed the strategies to bring vantage points around the domestic and international terminals under camera surveillance. The kidnapping of a U.K. couple by a gang for ransom and the special operation that rescued them has prompted law-enforcing agencies to focus on a more effective security system at the Chennai Airport, police sources said.

Thavaraj and his wife Salaja of U.K. were kidnapped by a gang soon after they arrived here from Colombo on a holiday on May 29. A suspect holding a placard with the name of Mr. Thavaraj posed as a hotel representative and guided the couple to a vehicle from where the kidnap drama began. The gang contacted the couple’s daughter Darshini using the mobile phone of Salaja and demanded a ransom of Rs. 2.48 crore to be paid in British pounds.

When the tip-off on the kidnap first came, police tried to analyse the CCTV footage at the airport. “We could not gather much from the video footage…some vital areas in front of the airport appears not to be covered by surveillance cameras. Cyber crime police scanning scientific clues helped zero in on the accused,” a senior police official said.

It was hours of painstaking investigation and coordination with different agencies in India and abroad that helped in the rescue of the hostage couple. “Though Mr. Thavaraj was constantly guiding his daughter on how to mobilize the ransom money, nothing much was actually happening. At one point of time, the suspects seemed to be getting impatient…our primary objective was to rescue the couple. We advised Darshini to remain in touch with the suspects and buy time as much as possible,” he said.

“Courageous response”

The British police have commended the Chennai Police for the “timely, professional and courageous” response that led to the rescue of the UK nationals. In a communication sent to the Chennai Police, David Jones, Manager of UK’s Anti-Kidnap and Extortion Unit, Serious Organised Crime Agency, sought to know the list of officers involved in the operation as it would help to recognize their services through diplomatic channels.

In another communication, the London Metropolitan Police wanted to know the role of Henry Paul Ajanthan, a Sri Lankan national, arrested by them. Ajanthan, an employee of Thavaraj, is suspected to have leaked the itinerary of the couple’s tour in India facilitating the abduction.

Chennai Police Commissioner S. George said the special team was instructed to ensure the safety of the couple and at the same time close in on the accused persons. “Until the police stormed the hideout and rescued the hostages, the suspects had no clue that police were tracking them. We used private vehicles and plainclothesmen in the entire operation…a high level of secrecy was maintained till the last minute,” he said. Instructions had been given to security officials to ensure that all vehicles entering the Chennai Airport premises were covered by CCTV. Senior officials from the British High Commission visited the police commissioner’s office on Tuesday and thanked the Chennai Police, Mr. George added.