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Odisha a ‘soft target’ for terror attack by Jihadis

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Odisha Sun Times Bureau
Bhubaneswar, Jan 23:

The Intelligence Bureau (IB) input on Thursday warning about a possible terror attack in Odisha has put a question mark on the ability and preparedness of the state police to thwart a terror attack by Jihadi groups should it take place.

The metal detectors at the entrance of the Lord Jagannath Temple   are out of order
The metal detectors at the entrance of the Lord Jagannath Temple are out of order

The lax intelligence network and lack of adequate training to foil any terrorist attack makes Odisha a soft target for the militant outfits.

Vital installations like places of religious importance, schools, shopping malls, market places and government establishments in Odisha’s having significant gatherings could be possible targets of these terrorist organisations.

Every day, the world famous 12th century Jagannath temple in Puri and the 11th century Lingaraj temple in Bhubaneswar witness huge footfalls thereby making them highly vulnerable sites for terror strike. Besides, the state secretariat and other busy places could be on their hit list.

‘‘Odisha schools could be soft targets of terrorists and could mount a Peshawar-type attack on an Army school in the state as the police is not equipped either in training skills and preparedness,’’ a senior police official said here.

Security arrangements at the Jagannath temple have been fortified with more security personnel deployed at the main entry point at Simha Dwara (Lion’s Gate). However, security at the other three entry points to the temple have been left unattended. Neither are the metal detectors at these points are working, nor are trained policemen posted to ward off any possible attack.

The illegal encroachments and ill-contrived makeshift shops around the temple boundary would make it difficult for the security personnel to deal with any emergency situation.

In the 26/11 terrorist attack at Mumbai in 2008, the Pakistan-based terrorists had taken the sea route to enter the Maximum City. Keeping this in view, the coastal town Puri is more vulnerable to such attacks. The marine police station at Puri hasn’t got adequate staff to monitor any infiltration bid by suspicious elements. Besides, the local police have deployed nolias (fisherfolks) as coast guards to patrol the coastline.

Last year in April, foreign tourists managed to take aerial photographs of the temple with the help of cameras fitted in quadcopters and private planes and uploaded it in the social media. The video footage easily accessible over the internet could come in handy for the terrorists to plan an attack on the Jagannath temple. One Hectar Mishra had filed a complaint with town police to take stringent action against the violators, install scanners at the entry points to the temple and declare the temple area a no-fly zone. As no action has been taken so far, the complainant has filed a complaint with Aul police and demanded a Crime Branch inquiry into the incident.

Notably, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) had rejected the plea for declaration of the air space above the shrine premises as a ‘no-fly zone’ on the grounds that it will violate laws and rules governing civil aviation in the country.

It may be recalled that in January last year, two operatives of the banned Indian Mujahideen (IM), a front for Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) had visited Bhubaneswar and Puri for a recce and had stayed in separate hotels for a few days at Station Square area in Bhubaneswar. The state police had no inkling of their presence till Delhi Police arrested the duo and interrogated them about their movement and links in Odisha.

Though the Commissionerate Police have a 30-member anti-terror commando unit, the personnel trained at the Special Operations Group (SOG) training centre on the outskirts of Odisha capital have not been equipped with terror combat techniques as it is a specialised anti-Naxal unit.

‘‘The only anti-terror commando unit in Odisha will be sent to India’s elite National Security Guard (NSG) for specialised counter-terror training in April this year. What if terror strikes before this? Is the existing security system equipped enough to deal with commando-style attack?’’ questioned a retired police official on condition of anonymity.

The Odisha secretariat, being the power corridor of the state, could be on the attack list. Though armed guards keep a strict vigil on the entry of visitors and movements around, it is doubtful if they are trained enough to deal with urban warfare, hostage or flash strike situations.

A senior official having experience on anti-terror operations said as per standard practice, police first identifies possible threat areas and intensifies security in these areas which is called ‘target hardening’. The security layer is laid so that it becomes difficult to breach the system.

In the event of a terrorist attack, the state police are not prepared enough to counter terror and minimise casualties. The state police can only wait for help from NSG Kolkata, who have specialisation in combat operations, he added.

After the Intelligence Bureau (IB) on Thursday warned four states that Pakistan-based terror outfits were readying to strike targets before January 28, the Odisha government reportedly put all 30 districts on high alert. The intelligence alert said militants from groups such as the Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammed and Hizbul Mujahideen were spread out across Odisha, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, and Uttar Pradesh.

The IB report said the militants have already despatched four action teams to carry out the terrorist attacks, one of them is purportedly headed for Odisha.

Odisha government beefed up security arrangements across its 30 districts. All 18 marine police stations manning coastal security have been put on high alert, director general of police Sanjiv Marik told media on Thursday.