India has puts its airports on high alert following intelligence warnings of a possible hijacking attempt by Islamic militants. The security alert comes days before India celebrates its annual Republic Day.
Indian officials said Friday the concern is that national carrier Air India or Indian Airlines could be targets of al-Qaida or militant groups associated with it.
"It is based on intelligence reports that we have received. And we suspect there can be an attempt to target some of our airlines, especially those which fly abroad outside India. And we have alerted our agencies to careful on anti hijacking measures," said U.K. Bansal, senior home ministry official in charge of internal security.
Bansal says the biggest threat is to flights that originate either in India or in neighboring South Asian countries - Bangladesh, Bhutan, Myanmar, Nepal, Maldives, Sri Lanka, and Afghanistan.
He says the tighter security measures include deployment of sky marshals on all flights of the national carrier Air India.
India has been wary of terror strikes since Islamic militants struck several high profile targets in Mumbai in 2008 killing more than 160 people. Since then it has been trying to upgrade security measures and improve intelligence gathering to foil such attacks.
During a recent visit to India, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates warned that al-Qaida and terror groups under its umbrella intend to destabilize the South Asian region with further attacks in Afghanistan, Pakistan and India.
India blames Islamic militants based in Pakistan for launching terror attacks in the country. The accusation - denied by Pakistan - has stalled a peace process between the two countries and raised tensions between them.
Friday's hijack warning comes days before India holds annual Republic Day celebrations on January 26th. At this time, security agencies remain on alert for possible terror attacks.
India also grappled with a hijacking a decade ago, when an Air India flight from Nepal was seized by Islamic militants and forced to land in Kandahar in Afghanistan. At that time, New Delhi released four Islamic militants in exchange for 167 passengers and crew.