Sunday, December 24, 2000,
Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

It was a five-minute work of 2 militants
From Syed Ali Ahmed and S. Satyanarayanan
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, Dec 23 — The Delhi police and Army, which have launched a joint investigation into the last night’s Red Fort shooting, have not yet made any major breakthrough in the case, although they suspect the involvement of “just two” militants in the incident.

Preliminary investigations indicate that only two militants barged into the Red Fort and attacked the Army men there,” the Joint Commissioner of Police (Northern Range), Mr Ajay Chadha told a press conference here this evening.
Tourists stand outside the entrance of New Delhi's Red Fort
Tourists stand outside the entrance of New Delhi's Red Fort on Saturday as Indian soldiers cordoned off the area to launch a major search operation to look for suspected militants.
— AFP photo

During the search and combing operations, the investigation teams found an AK-47 series rifle abandoned in Vijay Ghat adjoining the Red Fort, besides recovering 77 empty cartridges, 29 live cartridges of AK-47 and some cash from the place where the militants are suspected to have made their escape, the Joint Commissioner said.

The militants were holed in the Red Fort. Around 9.05 pm they first gunned down Abdullah Thakur, a watchman, then moved towards the eastern side of the fort and opened fire at Uma Shankar, a civilian employee of the Rajputana Rifles, and then killed Naik Ashok Kumar before making good their escape by scaling the high wall of the fort on the Ring Road side, Mr Chadha said.

While Abdullah and Uma Shankar died on the spot, Ashok died on way to the Army Base Hospital. Their bodies have been taken for a post-mortem.

“According to an initial probe the shooting incident lasted just five minutes,” he said adding that the police control room got the intimation at 9.23 p.m.

To a question whether the Lashkar-e-Toiba militants were involved in the attack, Mr Chadha said “we have no confirmation as yet about which militant group is behind the incident.”

To another question whether there was any intelligence input relating to the incident, Mr Chadha said, “There was no intelligence input”.

Even as the security personnel were busy trying to piece together the sequence of events and working on various theories on how the militants could get past the security set-up in the virtually impregnable 17th century fort from where the Prime Minister addresses the nation on Independence Day, the city police has sounded a red alert in the capital and maintained strict vigil on all entry and exit points.

The Red Fort has been completely cardoned off and the fort made-out-of-bound for the public.

While hawks eyes are being kept in railway stations, inter-state bus terminus and airport, police teams are conducting raids at suspected hideouts and making surprise checks at guest houses, motels and hotels in the vicinity of the fort to track the culprits.

The Delhi police has also increased patrolling on the streets and sensitive parts of the capital, even as it asked the people to remain vigilant and inform the police if they come across any strange person or object.

The Delhi Police Commissioner, Mr Ajai Raj Sharma, this morning held a meeting with top police officials of the force and asked the deputy commissioners of Police of all districts to take extra precaution to prevent any untoward incident during the Christmas festivity and coming New Year celebrations.


Army orders probe
Tribune News Service

NEW DELHI, Dec 23 — The Army today ordered a high-level inquiry into last night’s attack by militants on a battalion headquarters located within the high-security Red Fort complex in which two soldiers and a civilian guard were killed.

While the Defence Minister, Mr George Fernandes, said there would be no effect on the ceasefire initiative taken by the Prime Minister, Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee, in Jammu and Kashmir as a result of the incident, the Defence Ministry in its first reaction almost 18 hours after the shootout said security around all major defence and vital establishments had been stepped up in the wake of the attack.

The Ministry of Defence spokesman said a quick reaction team of the Rajputana Rifles had arrived on the spot within minutes and even fired at the intruders who were 80 to 100 metres away.

He said taking advantage of the darkness the militants escaped towards the wooded area near the fort wall on the Ring Road side.

The spokesman said an AK-47 magazine with 28 rounds and an empty magazine, strapped together, plus an empty magazine of AK-47 were found during night-long searches of the whole complex. Besides this, 37 fired empty cartridges of the AK-47 were also found.

He said 7 Rajputana Rifles immediately informed the Delhi Police and the GOC, Delhi area, Maj-Gen K Bhanot, and later cordoned the area.

Visiting the spot this morning, the Defence Minister said, “We have clearly indicated to Pakistan to rein in militant groups like Lashker-e-Toiba and Harkat-ul-Ansar so that an atmosphere conducive for talks was created and now it seems either Islamabad is not interested or it does not have control over these fundamentalist groups.”

Refuting claims that it was an intelligence failure, an agitated Defence Minister said “the security inside the premises is virtually nil as otherwise it would cause a major problem to those who visit this historic place.”

Mr Fernandes said security around the Red Fort would be beefed up and added, “We have ordered a court of inquiry and we will wait for its report.”


Govt slammed for Red Fort attack
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, Dec 23 — Major political parties, including the Telugu Desam Party, which is extending crucial outside support to the NDA Government, today termed as a “serious security lapse” the attack by militants at the historic Red Fort last night and demanded an immediate comprehensive statement from the government.

The main Opposition party, the Congress, describing the last night incident as “an extremely serious security lapse” demanded an immediate probe.

The Home Minister and the Defence Minister must institute an immediate inquiry and ensure that such serious lapses do not recur, Congress spokesperson Anil Shastri said in a statement here.

How is it that armed personnel could enter such a high security area, kill three Army jawans and then escape, he asked and said the Lashkar-e-Toiba had threatened to strike in the Capital during the month of Ramzan.

The TDP said that the government should take the incident “seriously” and take appropriate measures to prevent the occurrence of such incidents in the future.

“It is a serious security lapse, particularly in view of the coming Republic Day celebrations. The government should take the incident seriously,” TDP spokesman C. Ramachandraiah said.

The CPM while condemning the attack on the Army camp inside the Red Fort said, “It is totally amazing that such an attack took place in a high-security zone in the country’s Capital.”

Warning the government not to repeat the “mistakes of security and intelligence lapses” during the Kargil war for which the country had to pay a heavy price, the party’s politbureau urged the Centre not to lower vigilance “under the influence of extending the ceasefire in Kashmir.”


Intelligence caught unawares
From Girja Shankar Kaura
Tribune News Service

NEW DELHI, Dec 23 — The shooting at the highly secured Red Fort, the place from where the Prime Minister delivers the customary Independence Day speech, by suspected mercenaries of the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) has again bared the chinks in the intelligence network, including the Intelligence Bureau and the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW).

While the Military Intelligence (MI) is to be blamed for the daring attack carried out by the two militants in “dark fatigues” resulting in the killing of two jawans and a civilian, the other intelligence agencies, including the Delhi police, cannot be absolved of the responsibility of not having any information of the planned terrorist strike.

The strike came at a time when festivities are on in the Capital and when the Delhi Police is generally at its wits end, ensuring that no untoward incident occurred in the city. It is normally the time when a complete watch is kept at the guest houses and hotels around the city and the known hideouts of the militants.

The attack after claims of all intelligence agencies that their respective set-ups had been revamped, specially after incidents of militants storming the security forces’ set ups, including the Badami Bagh killings in Jammu and Kashmir, only points out that these proclamations were false. The intelligence agencies remain as lax and as ignorant as they were a year-and-a-half ago when they could not detect the intrusions by Pakistani armymen in the Kargil region of Jammu and Kashmir.

The Army and Ministry of Defence (MoD) officials are not ready comment on the failure of intelligence in the incident. But it is evident that the intelligence agencies had not anticipated that Lashkar men would come all the way to Delhi to carry out a strike at one of the most secured places in the Capital. And one which houses the battalions of the Army.

It also displays the resolve of the mercenaries to disrupt the peace initiative in J&K and to carry on with their threat of striking in the heart of the Capital whenever they want. Lashkar-e-Toiba had after the incident in Badami Bagh threatened to carry out such attacks in the Capital also and had said that it would also not spare the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) situated in South Block.

It seems that the with ceasefire in J&K in progress, the intelligence agencies and the security forces were in a mood to relax and ignored the possibilities of a strike being carried out in Delhi.

Whether the mercenaries were holed up in Delhi for some time or they managed to slip away from the valley in the past few days will never be known. But the fact that the intelligence agencies were not able to get information on this front is again a commentary on the state of affairs within.

What is interesting is that the Lashkar men attacked on a day when a function was under way in the Army area. They not only thought of striking on a day when a lighter mood would have been prevailing in the compound, but also got access to the area from where they were able to switch off the power supply for the light and sound show.

The power supply for the show never gets disrupted is the claim of the civic authorities. The very fact that the security posse at Red Fort failed to react even to this unusual happening again reflects on the security brief given to the men on duty.

The Kargil Committee in its report had specifically pointed out the lack of coordination among the intelligence agencies and the urgent need for overhauling the existing set-up. But it seems the authorities are still to wake up from the slumber and get their act together.

An emergency meeting called by the Prime Minister, Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee, at his residence was attended by Defence Minister George Fernandes, Home Minister L.K. Advani and External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh to take stock of the situation. Would some steps be taken to haul up the intelligence agencies?

On the other hand, the Lashkar-e-Toiba has again threatened to carry out more such attacks and that too in the heart of the Capital. The question is, whether even the PMO is safe now.

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