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Mosque Shooting, Australia Warning Jolt Delhi Games Preparation

Australia Warning Jolt Delhi Games Preparation
A car which burst into flames is seen near the site of a shooting in the old section of New Delhi. Source: STRDEL/AFP/Getty Images

Indian police blamed criminals rather than a terrorist network for the shooting of two Taiwanese nationals in Delhi a fortnight before the start of the Commonwealth Games, as Australia issued a security warning.

The shooting yesterday was the work of a “criminal gang” and not a “terror attack,” Delhi police spokesman Rajan Bhagat said by telephone today. Still, security agencies had issued a “red alert” in the city, he said, adding there had been no arrests.

The Indian Mujahideen, a domestic militant group that claimed bombings in Delhi and the cities of Jaipur and Ahmedabad in 2008 that killed at least 150 people, issued a statement saying it was behind the attack outside Delhi’s biggest mosque. One of two men riding a motorbike opened fire, injuring two Taiwan citizens who had been filming a documentary near the Jama Masjid.

“Australians in New Delhi should be aware that the Commonwealth Games will be held in a security environment where there is a high risk of terrorism,” Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade department said on its website in a travel bulletin issued today.

The Games, which feature 8,000 athletes from Britain and its former colonies and dependencies, take place from Oct. 3-14.

The shooting was followed by a small explosion in the same congested area of the city -- which includes other tourist landmarks such as the Mughal-era Red Fort -- as inflammable material placed inside a pressure cooker triggered a fire in a parked car, Press Trust of India reported.

‘Great Surprise’

A five-page statement purportedly from the Indian Mujahideen and emailed to the media said a “great surprise” was awaiting the Games, the Indian Express said.

India must now “convince the outside world” that the city is secure by “arresting the perpetrators and taking more security measures,” N. Manoharan, an analyst at the Center for Land Warfare Studies in New Delhi, said. The attackers “want to send the signal to the outside world that Delhi is not safe despite all the hype about security.”

The Indian government will station snipers on roof tops, and locate teams of police commandos at strategic locations near Games venues, Home Secretary Gopal Krishna Pillai said in February. About 100,000 spectators are expected to visit the city during the event, which have also been hit by delays to construction work and allegations of corruption.

“The Ministry of Home Affairs and Delhi police have made elaborate arrangements to provide the Commonwealth Games athletes and officials a safe and secure environment,” Lalit Bhanot, the secretary general of the Commonwealth Games organizing committee, said in a statement.

U.S. Warning

The U.S. also issued a travel advisory yesterday to its citizens asking them to be cautious. “U.S. citizens are urged to always practice good security, maintain a heightened situational awareness and a low profile,” according to one warden message issued by U.S. embassy in New Delhi.

“India will feel that these travel advisories are unjustified to some extent,” Raghbendra Jha, economics professor at Canberra-based Australian National University, said in a phone interview today. “But it knows that the Commonwealth Games will be a tense period.”

Indian Mujahideen has links with the Pakistan-based guerrilla group Lashkar-e-Taiba, Rand Corp. analyst Christine Fair has written. Lashkar gunmen carried out the November 2008 three-day siege of Mumbai, India and the U.S. say.

A bombing in March this year in a bakery in the western city of Pune killed at 17 people, according to the South Asian Terrorism Portal, the only major terrorist strike since the end of 2008.

‘Acceptable Security’

India’s Home Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram has said that some attacks in recent years may have been carried out by right-wing Hindu groups.

The Australian Commonwealth Games Association said it will continue to maintain a “high level of security awareness” and take advice from its own security consultants as well as Indian and Australian authorities.

“The ACGA remains of the view that there is an acceptable level of security being provided for our 2010 Commonwealth Games team in New Delhi,” Perry Crosswhite, the association’s chief executive officer, said in an e-mailed statement.

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