India issues plane hijack alert

India issued a terror alert at its airports today after receiving reports that al-Qaida-linked militants were plotting to hijack a plane.

India issued a terror alert at its airports today after receiving reports that al-Qaida-linked militants were plotting to hijack a plane.

India's aviation spokeswoman Moushumi Chakravarty said airlines and airport operators were put on alert after intelligence services uncovered reports of the possible attack by Islamic extremists.

She said airport security has been heightened and passengers were subjected to extra security checks.

Indian media reported that the plot was targeting an Air India or Indian Airlines flight destined for a neighbouring South Asian country.

Such an attack would be the first major terror strike against India since 10 militants rampaged through the city of Mumbai, formerly known as Bombay, for three days in November 2008, killing 166 people.

A report in The Indian Express newspaper said intelligence officials had uncovered a plot by militants linked to al-Qaida and the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba group.

UK Bansal, a top home ministry official, said passengers were being subjected to more intense security screenings. The India Express said sky marshals would also be deployed on flights around the region.

Indian media said the hijack threat was uncovered during the interrogation of Amjad Khwaja, a militant leader belonging to Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami, an extremist group involved in numerous terror attacks in India.

Khwaja was arrested in the southern Indian city of Chennai last week and was being questioned by Indian police.

The terror alert came just days after US defence secretary Robert Gates warned that a syndicate of terror groups affiliated with al Qaida was trying to foment a new war between India and Pakistan.

The nuclear-armed neighbours have fought three wars and efforts to resolve their long-running dispute over the Kashmir region were frozen after the Pakistan-based militants attacked Mumbai in 2008.

Mr Gates praised India for its restraint after the Mumbai attack, but expressed concern that the government would have a hard time reacting so cautiously if it were hit again.

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