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Updated: February 15, 2010 11:40 IST

‘Plot’ to hijack Indian plane sparks U.K. alert

Hasan Suroor
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AIR SCARE: An Indian Airlines plane prepares to land while another readies for take-off. Interrogation of a suspected militant raised fears that a British city might be attacked. Photo: PTI
PTI AIR SCARE: An Indian Airlines plane prepares to land while another readies for take-off. Interrogation of a suspected militant raised fears that a British city might be attacked. Photo: PTI

In a detailed threat assessment, India warned MI5 of a suspected plot to hijack an Indian plane, targetting a major British city.

Indian authorities are reported to have warned British intelligence agencies about a suspected plot by al-Qaeda-linked terrorists in Pakistan to hijack an Air India or Indian Airlines plane, originating from Delhi or Mumbai, and “crash” it into a British city.

The claim came a day after the British government raised the level of terror threat to “severe,” suggesting that an attack was “highly likely,” though Home Secretary Alan Johnson insisted that the decision was not linked to any specific threat.

In a front-page report, The Sunday Times claimed that India told MI5 about the alleged plot early last week after the interrogation of Amjad Khwaja, a suspected militant, arrested in India recently. Khwaja was described as a “leader” of Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami, which is alleged to have been behind terror attacks in India.

The newspaper said the warning was contained in a “detailed threat assessment sent to MI5 by the Indian Intelligence Bureau.”

“No specific threat”

“It did not state that Britain was a specific target. But police security sources said it had raised fears in London that a British city might be attacked,” the report said. The warning revived long-standing concerns about a terror attack on a British target.

It recalled how in 2003, the then Prime Minister Tony Blair rushed armoured vehicles to protect the Heathrow airport following reports that the al-Qaeda planned to crash a hijacked plane.

Announcing the decision to raise the threat level on Saturday, Mr. Johnson said there was no intelligence to suggest that an attack was imminent, but there was a need to be vigilant.

“We still face a real and serious threat to the U.K. from international terrorism, so I would urge the public to remain vigilant and carry on reporting suspicious events to the appropriate authorities.”

Terror cells

Earlier in the week, Prime Minister Gordon Brown warned that a number of terrorist cells were “actively trying to attack Britain and other countries.”

Security has been stepped up at British airports and full-body scanners are to be introduced soon, following the Christmas Day bid by a Nigerian youth Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab to blow up a plane over Detroit.

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