by Debendra Prusty
International terrorism has arrived in Odisha. After the arrest of Al Qaeda operative Abdul Rehman from Tangi-Choudwar near Cuttack, Odisha police has been very busy in searching terrorist links in every suspect. The latest being a case of four suspected international terrorists disappearing in mysterious circumstances from a hotel in Bhubaneswar just a fortnight before the visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. It has gained all the more importance as IB reported a threat to the PM from international terrorists.
There was a nationwide high alert on the occasion of the Republic Day after security agencies claimed there was a ‘very real’ threat from the terror group Islamic State. Over the weekend, 14 suspected IS affiliates and sympathisers were arrested from different parts of the country. The chief guest for this year's Republic Day is Francois Hollande, the president of France, where IS carried out devastating terror attacks last year. And the search for missing car from Punjab, which police suspects has been hijacked by terrorists, also added more importance to the Bhubaneswar incident.
Though two days have passed, it is not clear whether it was just a hoax. It was only few days ago that a Pune man had called the Airport Authority in Bhubaneswar over a bomb threat that turned out to be fake. But Odisha police is on high alert and a massive manhunt has been operation since 25 January after four men, presenting themselves as Iraqi nationals, disappeared when asked to produce their identity proof at a hotel on that night, with police suspecting them to be terrorists.
The four men who spoke Hindi and English, came to the hotel in a Ford Ikon car with a New Delhi registration number DL-4C-9645 which turned out to be fake. The Delhi Police informed that the car number belonged to a Bolero. "The four persons who fled the hotel before the police reached there could be terrorists... The four suspected terrorists had claimed to be natives of Iraq," said Director General of Police (DGP) K B Singh. "They came in a car bearing a Delhi number plate. However, verification of the car's registration number showed that it was fake," he added.
Siba Narayan Mohapatra, the hotel manager who interacted with one of the four men, said, "While one of them came to the hotel reception desk, three others were inside the car parked outside. The CCTV has captured the picture of one suspected terrorist and the vehicle used by them." Commissioner of Police RP Sharma said they had come to stay in the hotel at about 9 pm on 25 January, but fled when they were asked to produce identity proof before being given rooms. "The four persons wanted two rooms at the Hotel Arya Mahal," Sharma said, adding the police got information from the hotel staff who suspected their movement. The police have seized the CCTV footage from the hotel.
"In the wake of the incident, the security of the Chief Minister's carcade has been beefed up. We don't want to take any chances and have heightened security and frisking," Sharma said. The Special Task Force (STF), led by IG Arun Bothra of Crime Branch of Police, has started an investigation into the incident and launched an operation to trace the four men. The team searched different hotels and lodges to locate the missing suspected terrorists. "We are not sure whether the four persons are still in the state capital or not. Security personnel have been verifying CCTV installed at different places along Master canteen area," said a senior police officer.
The police have released CCTV grabs of the vehicle and one of the suspected persons and appealed to the public to inform them if they come across any suspected persons.
While Superintendents of Police of all the districts have been alerted, the police have intensified frisking and checking in the state capital besides sealing all the entry and exit points to Bhubaneswar. Sharma said the police suspected that there was a plan to disrupt the Republic Day celebration as the suspicious men attempted to stay in a hotel which is barely 300 metres from the state level parade venue at Mahatma Gandhi Marg. "We had tightened security since last night after disappearance of the four suspected persons," Sharma said.
The STF has questioned the hotel staff and others who had interacted with the suspected persons. With the state police taking no chance ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the state in the first week of February, the STF of Crime Branch has been checking every Ford Ikon car on the road and quizzing every person who looks like an Iraqi.
Just a couple of days ago Basir, a young man from Bangladesh was arrested from Bhubaneswar Regional Passport Office when he was trying to get a passport on false documents. Suspecting him to be a terrorist the police searched each of his links in the state and arrested another seven persons, four of whom belongs to Bangladesh. They were all illegal Bangladeshi infiltrators, who clandestinely came to Odisha and settled in various coastal and southern districts. Before Basir was arrested, Abdul Rehman, an Al Queda operative was arrested from Tangi-Choudwar, near Cuttack who was in charge of recruitment for suicide squad and training.