Occupants of Pakistani boat suspected terrorists: Parrikar

New Delhi


The occupants of a Pakistani vessel that blew up and sank off the coast of Gujarat were "suspected terrorists", Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar said Monday, as the incident on the open sea continued to hog media space amid border tensions between India and Pakistan.

Parrikar said "circumstantial evidence" points to a terror link and not to the occupants being smugglers.

"I think they were suspected terrorists as they committed suicide. A normal boat even carrying drugs can surrender," Parrikar told reporters on the sidelines of an event here.

Parrikar's remarks came as questions are being raised in the media on the nature of the "illicit transaction" being carried out by the suspicious vessel in the Arabian Sea.

The Congress, which has asked the BJP-led government to come clean on conflicting reports in the media, Monday said every citizen of the country has the right to question the government.

Parrikar said he would not speculate on the "cargo" of the vessel but "their activities do not fit description of a smuggler".

"Why would smugglers stay in touch with Pakistani maritime authorities? Furthermore, why would they commit suicide?" he questioned.

"The people on the boat decided to blow themselves up instead of surrendering. Smugglers can always surrender the drugs."

According to the defence ministry, the suspicious boat was intercepted by the Coast Guard based on an intelligence input Dec 31, and it was traced in the Arabian Sea, 365 km off Porbandar in Gujarat.

The dramatic incident was a reminder of the manner Pakistani terrorists sneaked into Mumbai in 2008.

The vessel, which had set off from near Karachi on New Year's Eve, turned into a ball of fire and sank after its occupants, believed to be four in number, set fire to it early Jan 1.

Parrikar also lauded the Coast Guard personnel for their effort, saying they did the right job at the right time.

"The Indian Coast Guard reacted immediately. The boat was on surveillance for 12 hours and it was intercepted as soon as possible," he said.

The minister also pointed out that the location of the boat was not on the normal sea route, while smugglers usually take the busy route so that they can mingle with fishing boats.

He said there were no boats in the vicinity of the suspicious vessel.

Parrikar's comments came a day after the BJP slammed the Congress for seeking a probe into the alleged Pakistani "terror boat" incident and said the opposition party raising questions in the matter showed it had touched a "new low" in politics.

Congress spokesperson Randip Singh Surjewala Monday hit back at the BJP.

"We request the spokespersons of BJP to stop making public relation events out of issues of national security. It is our right as the opposition to question the conflicting reports in the media," he said.

"Every citizen of this country has the right to question the government, the ruling party cannot brand them as Pakistanis," Surjewala said.

He, however, said the Congress commended the "valiant efforts" of the Coast Guard for foiling such an incident.

The incident took place amid tensions between India and Pakistan over ceasefire violations along the international border and Line of Control in Kashmir.

Pakistan has rejected India's claim about the suspicious vessel and said no boat from Karachi had gone to the open sea. - IANS