NEW DELHI, India --The U.S. Embassy warned Americans yesterday that foreign terrorists, possibly linked to al-Qaida, were planning bomb attacks in India's major cities in the days leading up to the nation's Independence Day next Tuesday.
In a strongly worded e-mail, the embassy urged U.S. citizens living and working in India to "maintain a low profile, and be especially alert and attentive to their surroundings" in the days ahead of the holiday, which celebrates independence from British rule.
"Likely targets include major airports, key central Indian government offices and major gathering places such as hotels and markets," the alert stated.
The information was gathered by U.S. intelligence agencies and was passed on to the Indian government.
Some Indian officials, however, were dismissive of the warning, and Home Secretary V.K. Duggal indicated that the alert was routine. "It is normal for missions to issue advisories when they have any information," he said at a news conference. "It's a very innocuous advisory."
Officials at several other embassies, including the British and German, said they knew nothing of the threat.
Although similar warnings have been issued to Americans in the past, this alert was unusually specific in its details on the possible timing of the threatened attack. The mention of a possible al-Qaida link was also new.
During investigations into last month's attacks on rush-hour trains in Bombay, Indian officials have focused their inquiries on the Pakistan-based militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba, which is thought to have links to al-Qaida but specifically targets Indian rule in the disputed Kashmir territory.
Some security analysts have speculated that India's growing relationship with the United States, sealed earlier this year with President Bush's friendly visit to New Delhi, makes it a more obvious target for al-Qaida's attentions.
Security in Indian cities is always tightened ahead of Independence Day celebrations, when separatist movements often stage attacks, and recent events have made big holidays particularly tense for the nation's security forces.
Twice in the past 10 months, terrorists have conducted major attacks on Indian cities in the period leading up to a holiday. In New Delhi in October, bombs tore through markets crowded with shoppers preparing for Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights. In March, the holy city of Varanasi was targeted days before the Hindu spring festival of Holi.
Anand Sharma, an official in the foreign ministry, said precautions had been taken before the U.S. warning. "Our intelligence agencies are already on alert," he said. "We are aware that there is a threat, as India has been a target for militants."
Authorities tightened security at the Taj Mahal yesterday, after a separate review found that security there was insufficient to thwart a terrorist attack, the Press Trust of India reported.