Lakshadweep – Footprints of Terror

Lakshadweep – Footprints of Terror

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The Union Territory of Lakshadweep

  • 35 scattered Islands inhabited in 10 covering just 32 km2 in a lagoon that covers 4200 km2. The spread of these islands has offers India 20,000 sq. km. of territorial waters and approximately 400,000 sq. km. of Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ)
  • Lakshadweep islands are located at a distance ranging from 200 km to 400 km from the Kerala mainland and 60 to 400 km from each other
  • Over 200 boat landing centers, more than one lakh fishing boats, and a vast coastline. Population around 65000 as per 2011 census mostly Muslims belonging to the Shafi School of the Sunni sect who are prone to Wahabi influences
  • There are no Customs ports in Lakshadweep and anchoring there is illegal. For many years suspicious vessels have berthed close to those islands and small boats like yachts used to come and go at will
  • Immigration and enforcement exercises are carried out by local police who number less than 300. Shortage of manpower and equipment has hindered the efficiency of the police force. Intelligence Bureau officials have wanted more competent agencies to be deployed in the Lakshadweep area
  • Proximity to the Indian western coast as well as to other island nations such as Sri Lanka and the Maldives, nearness to busy shipping lanes, wide geographical spread, and a predominantly Muslim population all make it attractive to non-state actors and terrorists. These islands could be used as safe havens or platforms for launching attacks against India

Mumbai attacks and pirates

  • Mumbai attackers in November 2008, operating out of Karachi, came from the Arabian Sea. Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) was trying to establish bases in the Islands and use them for launching further stealth attacks on India.
  • Coastal and maritime security was granted top priority following the Mumbai attacks. Plans were to enhance the vigilance of uninhabited islands, air assets to be stationed in the Islands, watchtowers and radar sensors erected, coastal police stations strengthened, and strict watch maintained at entry and exit points.
  • The government of India approved the establishment of four coastal police stations at Androth, Kavaratti, Kiltan, and Minicoy and sanctioned two 12-tonne and four 5-tonne interceptor boats. Only one police station had been constructed and only one interceptor was delivered by Dec end 2010.
  • The pace of implementation was extremely slow. The lazy attitude of the state governments, bureaucratic obstacles, stringent laws, turf wars among various agencies, lack of personnel, and technical lag all contributed to the delay.

Piracy in the 2010s

  • Law and order on the high seas of the Arabian Sea deteriorated with Somali pirates colluding with the Al Shabab terrorists from southern Somalia and the LeT of Pakistan. Pirates collected logistical data and raised funds in exchange for protection.
  • In March 2010, a piracy bid on a Maltese ship was foiled by the Indian Navy 200 nautical miles off Lakshadweep Islands in the Indian EEZ
  • In May 2010, eight Somali pirates were detained by the Indian navy off the Lakshadweep Islands. In Nov, two piracy attempts, both on container ships, were successfully thwarted just 150 nautical miles off Minicoy islands.
  • In early Dec, the Indian Navy seized a dhow with 19 foreigners including 15 Pakistani nationals off Bitra Islands in the Lakshadweep.
  • On December 5, 2010, six Somali pirates hijacked a Bangladeshi flag-bearing ship some 67 nautical miles off the Lakshadweep Islands.
  • Indian Navy and the coast guard captured a pirates’ mother ship, along with 28 Somali bandits after a gunfight. The ship was apprehended 100 nautical miles off the coast of Lakshadweep near Kavaratti.
  • The Indian Navy and Indian Coast Guards caught 16 Somali pirates in a joint operation of the coast off the Lakshadweep Islands in March 2011.

Sri Lankan ISIS bombings

  • Suicide bombings in Sri Lankan Christian churches in April Came to be known as the Easter Bombings. Occurred on the holiest day for Christians when church attendance was highest.
  • A country with 70% Buddhists and a minority population of 10% Muslims. The bombings made the Lankans ban any type of face covering and start ‘breach and clear’ operations to eliminate terrorists.
  • By late May, Lankan authorities intimated to Indian intelligence that 15 ISIS escapees were sailing towards Lakshadweep. Farooq Khan, the then administrator of the Union Territory directed the security forces to enhance patrolling to prevent any intrusions. Special attention was to be paid to the uninhabited islands.

Smuggling route

  • In Nov 2020, Coast Guard apprehended 6 Sri Lankans from the seas near Thoothukudi. Copious amounts of synthetic drugs, five 9mm pistols, a Thuraya satellite phone set, and a mechanized fishing vessel were confiscated. They had sourced the drugs from traffickers belonging to the Golden Cresent region in the high seas off Pakistan. Ran out of fuel and drifted towards Indian waters.
  • Early March of this year, Coast Guard intercepted three Sri Lankan boats with 19 crew members off Minicoy Island. 200 kg of heroin and 60 kg of hashish loaded from a Pakistani boat around 400 miles west of Lakshadweep. Upon seeing the Coast Guard ship, the drug smugglers used unauthorized Thuraya telecommunication equipment and contacted their Pakistani suppliers. They were allegedly advised to ‘flee with full speed,’ but the captain discarded the communication set and the contraband in the sea.
  • By mid-March, Coast Guard intercepted even more Sri Lankan boats off Minicoy Island carrying 5 AK-47 rifles with 1000 live rounds and 300 Kg of heroin, drugs worth 3000 crores rupees in the black market. Pakistan is pushing drugs and weapons into India using Sri Lankan fishermen.

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The new reforms

  • Praful Khoda Patel is the first Laskshadweep Administrator who is a politician and not a member of the Indian Administrative Service (IAS).
  • For all illegal activities, there has to be a local link. New laws plan to bring in the Lakshadweep Prevention of Anti-Social Activities Regulation which gives powers to detain a person for up to one year to prevent him from “acting in any manner prejudicial to the maintenance of public order”. It allows for detention for anti-social activities from six months to a year without legal representation.
  • Claims that Lakshadweep has one of the lowest crime rates in India and there has been no terrorist activity there is false. The locals follow sharia laws and formal police complaints are rare.