New Delhi on alert as embassies warn of attack

New Delhi on alert as embassies warn of attack

New Delhi: Thousands of police and paramilitary soldiers guarded New Delhi’s markets and shopping centres Sunday after foreign embassies in India issued warnings of imminent militant attacks.

The US, British, Australian and other Western embassies issued urgent alerts advising their nationals to avoid busy parts of the city, where blasts in upmarket shopping areas in 2008 killed 22 people.

Commandos and armoured cars guarded metro stations, shopping malls and crowded market places across the sprawling city of 16 million people.

Police with automatic weapons patrolled Delhi’s four most popular shopping districts, and explosives experts used tracker dogs to sweep sensitive areas.

New Delhi police spokesman Rajan Bhagat urged residents to inform the police of “any suspicious object, person or vehicle".

Canada and New Zealand were among the countries warning citizens to take precautions in New Delhi, a rapidly expanding and chaotic city that wants to bolster its international image before hosting October’s Commonwealth Games.

The US embassy posted an advisory on its website on Saturday warning: “There are increased indications that terrorists are planning imminent attacks in New Delhi."

It named popular city centre shopping zones such as Connaught Place as “especially attractive targets for terrorist groups".

The high commissions (embassies) of Britain and Australia issued similar warnings, prompting ministry of home affairs to insist its security precautions were satisfactory.

In February, a bomb exploded in a packed restaurant popular with travellers in Pune, killing 16 people, including five foreigners.

It was the first major incident since the November 2008 Mumbai attacks in which 10 Islamist gunmen launched an assault on multiple targets in India’s financial capital, killing 166 people.

India blamed the Mumbai attacks on the banned Pakistan-based militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba, worsening already tense diplomatic ties with its neighbour.

Previous deadly blasts in Delhi have been blamed on shadowy home-grown Islamist groups.

Security concerns about the Commonwealth Games have been rising, with some Australian athletes questioning whether they would participate and advising their families to stay at home.

In the latest incident, two low-intensity bombs went off last month at a cricket stadium in Bangalore ahead of an Indian Premier League match.

New Delhi has promised “foolproof" security during the Games, which will involve 8,000 athletes.