Delhi's 2010 Commonwealth Games dogged by terrorism threats, poor organization

The 2010 Commonwealth Games in India next month were supposed to highlight Delhi's development, but attacks on tourists and infrastructure woes may have hurt the country's image.

Anupam Nath/AP
An Indian police officer checks the bags of a tourist at the entrance of the Jama Masjid, one of India's biggest mosques in New Delhi, India, Monday. Police increased patrols across New Delhi on Monday, one day after the drive-by shootings of two foreign tourists.

Delhi authorities today announced a raft of new security measures after the drive-by shootings of two foreign tourists in India’s capital Sunday. But amid mounting concern about setbacks to hosting the much-awaited Commonwealth Games, such steps are unlikely to allay fears that Delhi will be vulnerable to terrorist attacks next month.

“Terrorist groups will try to launch attacks on the games, no question,” says Ajay Sahni, executive director of the Institute of Conflict Management in New Delhi. “The question is, will they succeed?”

On Sunday morning, two gunmen on motorcycles opened fire on tourists near the Jamma Masjid, a red sandstone mosque that is one of the city’s biggest tourist attractions, injuring two Taiwanese men.

Hours later, an Islamist group believed to have links with the banned Pakistani Lashkar-e-Taiba claimed responsibility for the attack. Another Islamist group, the Indian Mujahideen, also claimed responsibility for Sunday's bombings in an e-mail to media organizations. In 2008, the Indian Mujahideen carried out coordinated attacks on Delhi, Jaipur, and Ahmedabad that killed at least 150 people. It is suspected of being a shadow outfit for Lashkar-e-Taiba.

"We know preparations for the games are at their peak," their e-mail reportedly said. "Beware, we too are preparing in full swing for a great surprise."

The government sought to downplay the threat of Islamic terrorism by suggesting the attackers could have been violent local criminals. It also announced new security measures for the city, among them that no vehicles will be allowed to park within 100 meters of 470 ''sensitive sites.” Games venues, including the athletes' village, are already surrounded by heavy security.

Security to shoddy construction

Security analysts say that more worrying than the specific threat of the Indian Mujahideen, which has been heavily targeted by security operations in recent months, is the city’s lack of preparedness for the games, which run from Oct. 3 to Oct.14 and are set to bring more than 5,000 international athletes from 71 countries.

By hosting the games this fall, India was hoping to showcase itself as a new economic player on the world stage. Instead, the games have highlighted India’s troubles with corruption and struggle to build infrastructure efficiently – a key contrast with rival China, which used the 2008 Beijing Olympics to highlight its economic progress.

From Delhi's shoddily built venues to allegations of high-level and pervasive corruption, the organization of the Commonwealth Games has embarrassed authorities, who nevertheless continue to insist that they will be the “best ever.”

Mr. Sahni says he is especially concerned that venues have not been completed in time for the security services to “sanitize” them with thorough checks. “And even where the venues are ready the grounds are not," he says. "How can anyone have confidence that every precaution has been taken?”

Instead, he says, authorities would have to rely on “ham-fisted, heavy handed” tactics to prevent a terrorist atrocity, including the closure of popular down parking lots.

Other reasons for the shooting?

Meanwhile, security analysts speculate that while the attack could be linked to the games, it could also have been sparked by surging discontent in Indian-controlled Kashmir, where 100 people have died since June in clashes with police.

A legal verdict due Friday on a disputed site in Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh, could also be behind the shootings. Sunday was also the second anniversary of an incident in which two alleged Indian Mujahedin militants were killed by police.

Shortly after Sunday's shooting, the US Embassy issued a security advisory warning Americans to "maintain a heightened situational awareness." Australia and Britain also issued travel warnings.

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