THE WESTERN Naval Command declared a high alert Thursday along the coastline of Navi Mumbai, Raigad, Mumbai and Thane after two schoolchildren in Uran reported five-six “suspicious looking” men who they claimed were carrying weapons and backpacks. Since the area houses a naval base and an ONGC plant, the Indian Navy, Coast Guard, Maharashtra Police and Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) responded swiftly. Navy helicopters combed the area and an alert was sounded.
Maharashtra Director General of Police Satish Mathur said, “Two students informed us that they saw suspicious men in Uran. While one student claimed that he spotted one person, the other claimed to have seen five persons.” Police have withheld the identities of the two children.
Swati Shiralkar, principal of the Uran Education Society (UES) school, said a girl approached her around 6.30 am. “She told us that on her way to school, while at Bori Naka, she saw five men dressed in Pathan suits, with gloves on and faces covered. She said they were carrying guns and running in the direction of the school. She was worried that the men would attack the school. She was scared, and was shivering. I asked her to calm down. I informed the school management.”
Anand Bhingarde, UES general secretary, alerted police. “We also checked with police and Navy if they were conducting any mock drill. Both told us that no exercise was being carried out,” Bhingarde told The Indian Express.
Shiralkar also made an announcement that no student was to leave the school premises. Around 7.30 am, a student of the junior college affiliated to the school too walked up and said he too had seen “a suspicious looking person from his Kumbharwada residence early morning”.
“He said he was standing in the balcony of his house when he saw a person in a Pathan suit with a gun. He said the man was coming down from a nearby hill. We got all the more worried and memories of the 26/11 attack came to mind,” Shiralkar told The Indian Express.
“Given that the description of the men given by both students matched, I called police again and told them that the threat seemed serious,” Bhingarde said.
The Navi Mumbai police soon reached the spot. Senior officers, including police commissioner Hemant Nagrale, spoke to the two students separately. Police then passed on the information to their superiors. Navy helicopters took to the air to comb the area. Nagrale said, “Until now, the version of the witnesses could not be confirmed either way. Efforts are on.”
Citing security reasons, the UES announced that the school would remain closed for the next two days.
In Uran, there was mixed reaction to the sightings. “There are so many CCTV cameras here. Had such people been here, they would have been captured by some of the cameras. It is not possible that they can be here for so many hours without being spotted,” Jai Jadhav, a resident of the area, said.
The Navy spokesperson said, “A report that some suspicious persons have been sighted early morning… in Uran, Maharashtra was received in the morning. As per the report, 5-6 persons were sighted in Pathan suits and appeared to be carrying weapons and backpacks.”
“Indian Navy’s Western Naval Command expeditiously reacted to the situation by first initiating an alert and informing all coastal security stakeholders. Searches and other actions as per procedure have been initiated. The situation is being closely monitored in liaison with police. No person has been located or apprehended till now,” the spokesperson said.
The Maharashtra Chief Minister’s Office said Devendra Fadnavis had spoken to the DGP, Mumbai police commissioner and the intelligence commissioner. It quoted him as asking “citizens not to panic” since “close vigil” is being maintained.
Taking to Twitter, the CMO said: “All precautions are being taken. Massive combing operations are on. State and Central forces are working in close coordination.”
Minister of State (Home) Deepak Kesarkar also appealed to people not to panic. “Combing operations are in full swing. All security agencies from the Centre and the state are involved in the operations. The situation is being tackled. People should have faith in our security agencies. I cannot disclose more at this stage to ensure that combing operations are not hampered,” he said.