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Possible 26/11 type terror attack thwarted by Indian coast guard?

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New Delhi: A suspicious Pakistani fishing boat apparently loaded with explosives blew up in the sea and sank off Gujarat after being intercepted by the Indian Coast Guard, officials said Friday, prompting fears that a major terror attack may have been planned.

The Pakistani vessel, which had set off from near Karachi on the eve of New Year, turned into a ball of fire and sank after its occupants, believe to be four in number, set fire to it early Thursday, about seven hours after it was spotted following an intelligence tip off.

Darkness and bad weather prevented the Coast Guard from apprehending any of the crew as they sank in the Arabian Sea along with the vessel.

Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar “complimented the Indian Coast Guard and those involved in the operation for intercepting the rogue vessel off the coast of Gujarat, in a timely and precise manner, thereby, averting a possible danger”, an official statement said.

The dramatic incident — a reminder of the manner Pakistani terrorists sneaked into Mumbai in 2008 — took place on Dec 31-Jan 1 night. The Coast Guard’s Deputy Director General K.R. Nautiyal said he suspected “something serious”.

Nautiyal told the media that the boat was spotted by a military aircraft, nearly 365 km from Porbandar in Gujarat late Wednesday night.

At least three aircraft monitored the boat, and it was intercepted by Coast Guard ships near the India-Pakistan maritime boundary, around 11.30 p.m. Dec 31.

Nautiyal said the boat switched off its lights when it was asked to halt for an inspection of the crew and cargo.

“The boat started manoeuvring to escape. We chased it for nearly an hour and a Coast Guard ship managed to stop it with warning shots,” he said.

The crew members, four of whom were spotted, then went below the deck. It then blew up, indicating it may have been carrying explosives.

“Due to darkness, bad weather and strong winds, the boat and persons on board could not be saved or recovered. The boat burnt and sank in the same position in early hours of Jan 1,” a defence ministry statement said.

Nautiyal said the boat sank at 6.33 a.m. after being cornered.

“There must be something serious. If they were not doing anything wrong, why would they run away and set the boat on fire,” he said.

Nautiyal said the intention of the boat and those on board would be known once all “dots are joined”.

“The intelligence inputs, accounts from the Coast Guard ships and the aircraft will help,” he said.

Nautiyal called the incident the outcome of “good coordination between the intelligence and forces”.

Experts meanwhile said the incident reminded of the Mumbai terror attack of November 2008 when 10 Pakistani terrorists massacred 166 Indians and foreigners.

The terrorists had hijacked Indian fishing boats to enter Mumbai.

“This is a matter of concern. It appears a big terror strike was being planned, reminds of 26/11… It also shows that Indian agencies are alert and prepared,” security expert Qamar Agha said.

Retired major general S.R.Sinho said the blast in the boat “is a clear indication they were coming with a lot of explosive. Probably they wanted to enter Indian soil”.

Strategic expert Commodore C. Uday Bhaskar said “The incident does remind one of the Mumbai terror attack, but it also reflects positively on the Coast Guard and shows we are better prepared now.A

He said it “can be linked to the US president’s visit (to India this month)”.

The Indian Navy chief had last month warned of increased threats from the sea.

SOUTH ASIA

Pakistani Anti-graft body wants travel ban on Nawaz Sharif, kin

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Pakistan’s anti-corruption watchdog has asked authorities to place ousted premier Nawaz Sharif, his daughter and son-in-law on the Exit Control List to prevent them from leaving the country.

The National Accountability Bureau (NAB) sent a formal request to the ministry of interior. The interior ministry officials confirmed that the NAB wrote that names of Sharif, his daughter Maryam Nawaz and son-in-law Capt (retd) Muhammad Safdar should be put on the Exit Control List (ECL), which listed individuals not allowed to leave Pakistan.

The NAB argued that as the trial of the three nears its conclusion, it is feared that they would leave the country.

Earlier, a similar request to place name of finance minister Ishaq Dar on ECL was not accepted, allowing him to go to London and never return.

Sharif, 68, and his family this week filed an application with the accountability court seeking a fortnight’s exemption from personal appearance from February 19 onwards to let them go to London to see Sharif’s ailing wife. Three cases were filed against Sharif and his family last year, including Avenfield properties, Azizia & Hill Metal Establishment, and Flagship Investments.

Maryam and Safdar are accused only in Avenfield properties case. The NAB had filed two supplementary references against Sharif, his sons Hasan and Hussain regarding Al-Azizia Steel Mills & Hill Metal Establishment and Flagship Investment cases.

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SOUTH ASIA

Pakistan “breaches obligations’ on nuclear arms reduction, UN court told

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The Hague: Pakistan is violating its “obligations” to the international community by failing to reduce its nuclear arsenal, the Marshall Islands told the UN’s highest court on Tuesday.

The small Pacific Island nation is this week launching three unusual cases against India, Pakistan and Britain before the International Court of Justice.

Majuro wants to put a new spotlight on the global nuclear threat, its lawyers said yesterday, by using its own experience with massive US-led nuclear tests in the 1940s and 1950s.

“Pakistan is in breach of its obligations owed to the international community as a whole,” when it comes to reducing its nuclear stockpile, said Nicholas Grief, one of the island nation’s lawyers.

Islamabad and its nuclear-armed neighbour India “continue to engage in a quantitative build-up and a qualitative improvement” of their atomic stockpiles, added Tony deBrum, a Marshallese government minister.

DeBrum warned that even a “limited nuclear war” involving the two countries would “threaten the existence” of his island nation people.

Pakistan and India have fought three wars since independence from Britain in 1947, two of them over the disputed Himalayan territory of Kashmir.

In 1998, the rival neighbours both demonstrated nuclear weapons capability.

The ICJ’s judges are holding hearings for the next week and a half to decide whether it is competent to hear the lawsuits brought against India and Pakistan — neither of which have signed the 1968 nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

A third hearing against Britain — which has signed the NPT — scheduled to start on Wednesday will be devoted to “preliminary objections” raised by London.

The Marshalls initially sought to bring a case against nine countries it said possessed nuclear arms: Britain, China, France, India, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia and the United States.
Israel has never admitted to having nuclear weapons.

But the Hague-based ICJ, set up in 1945 to rule in disputes between states, has only admitted three cases against Britain, India and Pakistan, because they have accepted the ICJ’s compulsory jurisdiction.

Pakistan’s lawyers did not attend Tuesday’s hearings.

It did however file a counter-claim against Majuro’s allegations saying “the court has no jurisdiction to deal with the application” and insisting that the case is “not admissible”, said ICJ President Ronny Abraham.

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SOUTH ASIA

Bangladesh to drop Islam as official religion following attacks on Hindus

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Bangladesh to drop Islam as official religion following attacks on Hindus

New Delhi: Bangladesh is likely to drop Islam as its official religion following a series of attacks on people from other faiths in the country. The country’s Supreme Court is hearing a plea challenging the status of the official religion of the country to Islam.

Bangladesh, which was declared a secular country after its formation in 1971, was declared an Islamic country following a constitutional amendment in 1988.

According to a report in the Daily Mail, the plea has challenged the declaration of Islam as the national religion of the country.

The move is being supported by leaders from the minority communities like Hindus, Christians and Muslim minority Shiites.

Bangladesh has 90 per cent of Muslims, 8 per cent Hindus and remaining constitutes Christians and Muslim minority Shiites.

In last month, a Hindu priest was hacked to death following an attack on a temple in Panchgarh district. Two others were seriously injured in the attack. There have been several lethal attacks on writers and bloggers.

According to a report in the Independent, Islamist groups Jumatul Mujahedeen Bangladesh and Ansarullah Bangla Team are believed to have carried out at least seven attacks on foreign and minority people in Bangladesh in the past year.

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