India Issues Terror Alert Over Hijack Plot

Indian airports on high alert after officials issue terror warning.

NEW DELHI, Jan. 22, 2010 — -- Indian airports are on high alert today after officials issued a terror warning of a possible airline hijacking.

Security has been increased at all airports, passengers are being subjected to tougher screening and more air marshals will be deployed on flights in India, the Indian home ministry said this morning. Local reports suggest that Air India flights within all of South Asia are being targeted.

The alert comes days after U.S. Secretary of Defence Robert Gates met with Indian officials in New Delhi and said that a "syndicate of terror groups" affiliated with al-Qaeda are potentially trying to destabilize the entire region.

"This alert is based on specific information from a usually reliable source," U. K. Bansal, the senior home ministry official in charge of internal security, told ABC News. "We've taken a closer look at it and we regard it as significant."

But the attack is not likely to occur immediately, Bansal said.

"I would not say it is imminent in the next few hours or days," he said.

India has issued similar alerts in the past year. Terror threats often occur around this time of year when India celebrates its annual Republic Day on Jan. 26.

India suffered its last major attack on Nov. 26, 2008, when terrorists -- believed to be from the militant organization, Lashkar-e-Taiba -- struck the financial capital of Mumbai, killing at least 166 people.

Local news reports have said the group is responsible for the latest hijacking threat but the home minister was quick to dismiss a specific group.

"I wouldn't really make a major importance in distinction from these terrorists groups," Bansal said, explaining that the priority is to protect Indians from attack and prevent any group from coordinating a strike against the country.