Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Alert along Kerala coast

Navy spots unidentified persons landing on Pallipuram coast

The men, numbering around 15, were found carrying something resembling rucksacks

Police warned that Bangladesh-based militants were bound for the Kerala coast

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: The Kerala Police on Monday sounded a State-wide alert after Navy personnel operating remote-controlled ‘drones’ reconnaissance aircraft reported that they spotted a group of unidentified persons landing on the Pallipuram coast in Alappuzha district on Monday afternoon.

Official sources said the operators of the Navy’s unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) reported that the men, numbering around 15, were found carrying something resembling “rucksacks” (similar to those used by the men involved in the Mumbai attack) while stepping off a fishing boat. The UAV, which was on a sortie off the Cherthala coast following intelligence reports of possible LTTE arrival, photographed suspicious activities at Pallippuram. There were also reports that a landing was spotted on the Ayirathai Beach, near Arthunkal.

The Navy rushed two helicopters, but the men seemed to have merged with the local population and their boat could not be identified from air, with scores of other similar vessels moored or moving in the bay area.

Home Minister Kodiyeri Balakrishnan told reporters at Patticaud, near Thrissur, that the security agencies had been put on full alert.

Director General of Police Jacob Punnoose has said combing operations were being carried out following credible information that a team of 10 or more persons carrying luggage got off near Arthunkal coast between 3.30 p.m. and 4 p.m.

He added that there is no need to panic as this could be a regular activity among the fisher folk. But the combing is being done because of the intelligence information. All borders of the district will remain sealed, he said. Mr. Punnoose camped at Cherthala on Monday to monitor the combing operations.

The Pallipuram coast is heavily populated and its fisherfolk are literate and politically active. State and Central Intelligence officials are talking to many of them, including their families. Officials said there could be a good chance that the men who landed on the beach were themselves fishermen. The Navy passed on its observations to the Central Intelligence Bureau which, in turn, informed the State police through the Multi Agency Centre (MAC).

The police have put on alert its commando units based in Thiruvananthapuram, Kollam, Kochi, Thrissur, Kannur and Kozhikode. Its Marine Enforcement and Vigilance Wing was coordinating closely with the Coast Guard and the Navy. The police have intensified patrolling in the coastal areas.

In Thiruvananthapuram, the police have put on alert its coastal stations at Varkala, Anchuthengu, Kadakavoor, Kadhinamkulam, Kazhakuttom, Pozhiyoor, Poovar, Kanjiramkulam and Parassala.

In Kochi, all entry points to the city are being closely monitored. “We resorted to two-pronged action immediately on getting the information of about 10-15 people landing near Cherthala. First, we verified the information on the ground. Along with that, we intensified combing along the north, south and east directions, on the assumption that the information was true. The combing operations are being led by Kochi City Police Commissioner and District Superintendents of Alappuzha and Kottayam,” said A. Hemachandran, Inspector-General of Police, Ernakulam Range.

Navy helicopters conducted low-flying search operations till late night. Naval ships and Coast Guard patrol crafts combed the coastal area.

The police have intensified checking on the roads leading to the beach in Alappuzha. The Coast Guard has anchored a vessel near the Arthunkal fish landing centre. Information Bureau officials, Customs (Preventive) officials and senior police officials led by District Superintendent of Police E. Divakaran are camping at the spot. Director-General of Police Jacob Punnoose visited the beach to oversee the operations.

A press release from the Indian Navy said the information on suspicious activity was duly passed on to the Kerala State civil authorities and the Kerala State police on Monday. “However, there is no confirmed information available at this stage and the Navy and Indian Coast Guard are still continuing the search operations in the area of interest,” the release said.

The MAC earlier informed the State police that members of a Bangladesh-based jehadist organisation, Jamaat Ul Mujahudeen, were bound for the Kerala coast from Sri Lanka.

The police sent the information as a circular to all Superintendents of Police, Law and Order, last week.

There are an estimated 10 lakh migrant workers in Kerala, many of them from West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, Bihar and insurgency-affected north eastern States.

The State special branch police conducted a random study last year to find out whether people claiming to be migrant labourers from these States were actually from their presumed home districts. Intelligence officials said they found that a section of migrant labourers claiming to be from West Bengal was actually from Bangladesh.

There was also a security angle to the exercise since anti-India terrorist organisations such as the Harkat-ul-Jehad-al-Islami Bangladesh (Huji-BD) and a few insurgent outfits operating in the north east were known to have secret bases in Bangladesh.

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