A high alert was sounded in Mumbai and across Maharashtra after a group of men were spotted moving suspiciously near a naval base at Uran in Raigad district.
Multi-agency search operations are underway with police releasing and circulating a sketch of one of the men among all the investigating agencies.
The sketch was based on the description provided by the three school students who reportedly spotted the men near the naval base. All schools and colleges have been shut in the town as a precautionary measure.
“As per the reports, five to six persons were sighted in Pathan suits and appeared to be carrying weapons and backpacks,” Naval spokesperson Cdr Rahul Sinha said in a statement.
Some reports said they were in military uniform.
The alert, which comes days after the Uri attack which left 18 soldiers dead, has led to elite forces like National Security Guard (NSG), state police's specialised commandos Force One and ATS being roped in for the search and security.
Fadnavis appeals for calm
Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis has appealed to citizens not to panic and said all precautions are being taken after a high alert was sounded.
"State &Central forces are working in close Cordination. CM @Dev_Fadnavis has appealed citizens not to panic. Situation under close vigil," the CMO Maharashtra tweeted.
The Navy pressed its choppers for aerial surveillance and heightened patrolling in the sea by its vessels and high-speed boats.
All security precautions taken.— CMO Maharashtra (@CMOMaharashtra) September 22, 2016
Citizens advised not to believe in rumours &continue routine undisturbed.
Inform police if something unusual
State &Central forces are working in close Cordination.CM @Dev_Fadnavis has appealed citizens not to panic.— CMO Maharashtra (@CMOMaharashtra) September 22, 2016
Situation under close vigil.
— CMO Maharashtra (@CMOMaharashtra) September 22, 2016
The Western Naval Command (WNC) issued a ‘highest state of alert’ along the Mumbai, Navi Mumbai, Thane and Raigad coasts where several sensitive establishments and assets are located. Western India's biggest naval base, the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, fertiliser plants, refineries, power plants and the country's largest container port, JNPT are located in close vicinity of Uran.
Coastal security has been a top priority after the 26/11 attacks, in which multiple locations in Mumbai were targeted by Pakistani terrorists who landed using the sea route.
The fishing town of Uran is located across the eastern water front of the financial capital. The base located close to the town also houses units of MARCOS, the Navy's elite strike force.
Security has been beefed up at sensitive spots along the coast, including the Gateway of India, Raj Bhavan, offshore oil assets Bombay High, JNPT, BARC and other major establishments near the sea.
Massive search operation underway
Maharashtra Minister of State for Home (Rural) Deepak Kesarkar said multiple security agencies were involved in extensive combing operations near the naval base in Uran and appealed to people to maintain calm and not believe in rumours.
"We urge people to maintain calm, not to panic or believe in rumours. People should immediately report any suspicious activity in their vicinity to the police," he said.
"There is no reason to doubt the information provided by the students. But it needs to be cross-checked. We already have the experience of (tackling) terror attacks in Mumbai," he added.
He further said that there had been conflicting reports about the attire of the suspects.
"Some say the suspects were five to six in number, while one student claimed he saw one person. While there were some who claimed the suspects wore 'burqa' (veils), others claimed they were wearing Army fatigues," he said.
According to sources in the Home Department, the NSG, Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS), Mumbai Crime Branch and Indian Navy are engaged in the combing operations.
Gujarat coast put on alert
In the wake of a high alert sounded along the Mumbai coast, Gujarat was also put on alert and security agencies have been asked to keep a close vigil on the coastline.
"After a high alert sounded along the Mumbai coast, we have also issued an alert along the Gujarat coast. All the district SPs of coastal areas have been asked to remain alert and step up security along the coast through continuous patrolling," Additional DGP, Law and Order, Tirth Raj, said.