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India on high alert; Centre to issue advisory to states

Security around schools, colleges and market places was strengthened in Delhi and other big cities in the country, in the wake of Tuesday’s terrorist attack on a school in Pakistan’s Peshawar and Monday’s hostage drama at a cafe in Sydney, Australia.

The ministry of home affairs (MHA) is preparing a detailed advisory for state governments, to be issued in the coming days. It will ask state governments and intelligence agencies to be on a two-month alert.

The Centre is wary that cafes, restaurants and prestigious academic institutions could be the next ‘high profile’ target in the run-up to the Republic Day on January 26, where US President Barack Obama will be chief guest.

The Chittisinghpora massacre of 36 Sikhs in Kashmir’s Anantnag district during the visit to India of then US President Bill Clinton in March 2000 remains a ghastly reminder to the Indian security establishment of how terror outfits might choose the occasion of Obama’s visit to strike.

The MHA advisory will have a set of guidelines to ensure safety and security of people at public places, and prominent schools and academic institutions. These institutions will be asked to prepare an escape plan for children in case of a terrorist attack, how to raise alarm, etc.

“The earlier advisory was issued by the home ministry in 2010 to prominent schools and institutions after 26/11 Mumbai terror attack accused David Coleman Headley was arrested in the US. We will revisit the advisory and send it afresh, considering the present situation,” a home ministry official told PTI.

Terrorist operative Headley and accomplice Tahawwur Hussain Rana had reportedly told interrogators that Pakistan-based outfit Lashkar-e-Toiba could target two prestigious boarding schools in north India and the National Defence College in New Delhi.

A few top schools in Delhi, Mumbai and some residential schools in Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh are likely to be given special security guidelines. Sources said state police and intelligence agencies are being asked to brush up standard operating procedures, issued after the 26/11 terror attacks in Mumbai in 2008, and keep intelligence networks on their toes.

On Tuesday, Delhi Police’s top officers asked its respective district police chiefs to tighten security measures around schools and colleges.

Instructions have also been issued to shopping malls to ask their security staff to be extra vigilant. Security has been increased at public places, particularly around clusters of restaurants and cafes. “Necessary steps have been taken to ensure security in Delhi,” Police Commissioner B S Bassi said.

The Delhi Police has been keeping a heightened vigil after a red alert was sounded in the city on December 5 over intelligence inputs of a possible terror strike. Precautionary measures were also taken by the Bengaluru Police on Tuesday to secure schools, colleges and cafes. There has been a threat on social media that the city would be the next target for a Sydney-like hostage crisis. However, Bengaluru police chief M N Reddy said there was no specific input.

“It is hereby made abundantly clear that there is no such threat perception for Bengaluru city. The public are requested not to give credence to such rumours. They are also requested to go about their normal lives, ” he said.

Police have also warned strict legal action against rumour mongers.

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