New Delhi: The Commonwealth Games will be safe, organisers insisted Monday after a weekend gun attack sparked new security fears as the city gears up to host thousands of athletes.
But Australia issued another warning about safety, saying there was a “high risk” of an attack in New Delhi and adding to jitters in participating nations about the games being targeted by home-grown or Pakistan-based militants.
Two attackers on a motorbike opened fire with a sub-machine gun outside the Jama Masjid on Sunday, injuring two Taiwanese members of a television crew travelling in a tourist minibus.
“Yesterday’s shooting was a one-off incident which was not targeted at the Games,” Suresh Kalmadi, chairman of the Commonwealth Games organising committee, told AFP.
“All security measures for the athletes and tourists who will be coming for the Games are well taken care of. I assure that,” he said.
The shooting came just a fortnight before 7,000 athletes and officials—from countries mostly from the former British empire—visit New Delhi for the multi-sport event that starts on 3 October.
New Zealand Prime Minister John Key said sports chiefs would decide this week whether to send athletes, acting on the advice of security experts.
“One always takes these things seriously but we are also very hopeful that the Commonwealth Games will proceed, that New Zealand will go and do very well,” he said.
The Games, the most expensive in the history of the event, were meant to be a chance for fast-growing India to showcase itself on the international stage. China used the 2008 Olympics to herald its arrival as a major power.
But the Delhi event has been mired in cost overruns, corruption allegations and political infighting. Construction of venues has lagged way behind schedule, and many richer residents are deserting the city during the event.
A cancellation now from a major sporting nation like Australia or Britain would wreck the event with the start date so close. Many international stars such as Jamaican sprinting legend Usain Bolt have already opted to stay away.
But authorities called for calm after Sunday’s shooting, while police cast doubt about a claim of responsibility issued by the Islamist group Indian Mujahideen.
The group, responsible for bomb blasts in the capital in 2008, said in an email to media outlets: “We are warning you. If you have the guts, then organise the Commonwealth Games... We know that preparations are in full swing.”
“Be prepared... We are also making preparations,” the Press Trust of India quoted the email as saying.
Police said they had interviewed about 30 people but had made no arrests.
“We have some leads. We are working on it. We are confident of cracking the case,” a senior police official said, Press Trust of India news agency reported.
Observers said Islamists like the Indian Mujahideen were unlikely to attack India’s most famous Muslim place of worship.
The imam of the 17th-century holy place, Syed Ahmed Bukhari, told AFP the attackers had shot directly at the mosque.
Some speculated that the attack might have been the work of Hindu zealots ahead of a court ruling Friday on a disputed religious site.
Police were also probing possible links between the bus shooting and a small explosion in a car nearby, which burst into flames shortly after the motorbike attackers fled the scene.
Indian police said they suspected fertiliser was used to make the car bomb which failed to detonate properly.
City police department spokesman Rajan Bhagat told AFP tests were being carried out to determine whether the substance which caused the parked car to catch fire was ammonium nitrate, a fertiliser that can be used in explosives.
No-one was injured by the car blaze.
Despite reassurances about the Commonwealth Games and elaborate security drills, witness accounts cast doubt on the readiness of the Delhi police to deal with militants.
“Even in the midst of a tense situation it was funny to see a police constable with a stick chasing armed bikers when he should have shot them with a gun,” one witness called Iqbal told the Mail Today newspaper.