Mumbai: Mystery continues over the sightings on Thursday of around five-six suspected terrorists, who were described by local school students as masked, wearing Pathani suits and carrying weapons, sending the entire security apparatus in a tizzy. No evidence had emerged till Friday night to corroborate the news and the Indian Navy said the naval areas had been sanitised.
Top police officers, however, maintained they did not want to take chances, given the nature of the alert. The Navi Mumbai police also circulated sketches of two persons based on the descriptions given by the students. The police said they had checked “every house” in the areas the men were spotted and even increased the perimeter of the combing operations. Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis was monitoring the situation from Pune.
“So far in the search, we have found nothing. We have covered a 15-20 kilometre radius from the spot where the men were spotted by the teenagers but found no such men,” said an officer from the Navi Mumbai police.
Around 6.30 am Thursday, a Class X girl had spotted five men in Pathani suits carrying firearms near her residence. After she informed the school authorities about the men, another Class XI student at the junior college affiliated to the school also told the school officials about having seen a suspicious man from his residence.
Given the fact that a naval base and an Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) plant are located near the spot where the suspicious men were spotted, the Navi Mumbai police took up the matter and soon Navy helicopters were pressed into service to locate the men. Later in the day, the National Security Guard (NSG) was roped in for the operations.
Maharashtra Director General of Police Satish Mathur said the operations to locate the men were still on. “There is nothing to worry about. Our men are combing the areas where the men were spotted. We have also released sketches of the two men based on the description given by the students,” he said.
The Navi Mumbai police also made a list of wanted criminals in the area and were on the look out for them. A senior officer said it was strange that no one else had seen the suspicious men apart from the two students. “Apart from them, no one saw the men and there is no other corroborative evidence like CCTV footage. Also, there is no abandoned boat or vehicle to indicate the presence of someone,” said a senior IPS officer. An official with an intelligence agency said “there were several questions about the ‘suspicious men’ that did not fit in.”
The IPS officer said, “At the same time, the statement of the girl has been specific and we have found no reason to disbelieve that. We have always encouraged people to come forth and inform us if they spot anything suspicious. Hence, it would be unfair to distrust someone after they approach us. Especially given the sensitive nature of the information, we cannot take any chances and the rescue operations will continue.”
Security agencies, including the National Security Guards (NSG) and the Navy, in addition to the state police had completed the search operations in the buildings surrounding the Uran Education Society (UES) school. “We have checked individual flats in all the buildings surrounding the school and found nothing suspicious. We are now increasing the perimeter of the search operations,” said an officer with the Navi Mumbai police.
By late Friday evening, the Navy in a statement said, “As far as the Indian Navy is concerned, operations based on yesterday’s (Thursday’s) sightings of suspected terrorists are over. Sanitisation of naval areas has been undertaken. The Navy is maintaining close liaison with the local police and other agencies for further updates.” The statement added, “In so far as the state of alertness is concerned, the Indian Navy maintains a high state of alert or tight vigil at all times in consonance with the prevailing circumstances.”