ISI may use Khalistani terrorists to target Modi, IB warns

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NEW DELHI: The Centre has rushed to tighten security around Gujarat CM Narendra Modi following an intelligence alert about an ISI plot to use Khalistani terrorists to eliminate BJP’s PM candidate. On October 16, Modi was targeted by Indian Mujahideen (IM), a terror outfit nurtured by Pakistan’s spy agency.

Security around Modi has now been ramped up by a three-layer cordon, a special security drill and advance security liaisioning (ASL) — requiring coordination of central and state forces — made mandatory for all his public engagements.

As part of the stepped up security, Modi now has three layers of protection: one group to take on any attackers, a second to provide cover and a third to get him to safety. The Gujarat CM, who has been on the hit list of several jehadi outfits such as IM that hold him responsible for the 2002 Gujarat riots, already enjoys Z plus security of National Security Guard (NSG).

The ASL, added to his security detail, will make sure that each time Modi travels outside Gujarat, there is a meeting among Gujarat Police officials, an NSG representative, IB station chief, DGP of the host state and other relevant agencies to ensure foolproof security. The entire route from the VIP’s arrival, meeting venue, number of people to be granted access will be discussed, scrutinized and sanitized by local police, as directed after the ASL meeting. Sources said this drill was not properly carried out during Modi’s Patna rally.

Modi’s security almost matches PM’s

The security cover now available for Modi comes close to matching the one that is in place for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi — one important difference being that he will not have the cover of the elite Special Protection Group (SPG), which is mandated to guard only PMs, serving and out of office, and their families.

MHA sources said giving ASL facility is the way out to avoid amending SPG Act and yet provide upgraded peripheral security to Modi.

According to IB sources, the agency has gathered intelligence on an alleged ISI plot to use Pakistan-based Khalistani holdouts to stage a hit on Modi, who has been addressing rallies across the country. Rendered ideologically orphaned following the demise of their secessionist cause and marooned in Pakistan, the Khalistani terrorists are dependent on their paymaster, the generals in the ISI, for sheer survival.

Efforts to reactivate and use them for other goals of the ISI, which played a key role in stoking the insurgency in Punjab, have been on over two years, with IB and other counter-terror agencies coming across plots like one involving Khalistani outfit Babbar Khalsa International (BKI) to target the 2010 Commonwealth Games.

With intelligence agencies and police heightening their surveillance on IM and other jehadi outfits, enlisting BKI may make tactical sense too.

Sources in IB suspect that it was IM’s founder Riyaz Bhatkal, being sheltered by the ISI in Pakistan, who instructed outfit’s lead operative Tehsin Akhtar alias Monu to carry out the bomb attack on Modi’s rally in Patna on October 27. Monu and his associates brutally exploited the inadequacies of Bihar Police to pepper Gandhi Maidan — the venue of Modi’s rally — with 16 bombs.

Imtiaz Ansari, one of the bombers arrested on the day of the blasts, told Patna Police that they had planned to set off a stampede so that a large number of people, particularly women and children, get killed in the panicked rush. Five persons were killed, but the toll could have been much higher if people, particularly those packed in the enclosures close to the dais, had panicked. Two bombs had been planted near the rostrum.

The emphasis on keeping an evacuation plan is being seen in the context of the failure of Bihar Police to have one at Patna.

Agencies also seem to have derived an important lesson from the absence so far of mandatory ASL for Modi. The exercise was done at Patna only at the insistence of IB.

Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) terrorist Abdul Kareem Tunda, who was arrested earlier this year after having been on the run for long, had told his interrogators about the ISI’s efforts to build a nexus between LeT and BKI. He also said that he had sent a consignment of explosives as part of the plan to attack the Commonwealth Games.

Last year, the National Investigation Agency (NIA) had registered an FIR in connection with clandestine foreign funding of BKI activities and efforts to revive the outfit. The FIR had alleged that money collected in the name of welfare 1984 riots victims by certain organizations was allegedly being diverted to Khalistani militant outfits.

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