NEW DELHI: Union Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar said on Monday that the men on the Pakistani boat, which exploded and sank after being intercepted by the Indian Coast Guard were suspected terrorists.
In a press conference on Monday morning Parrikar told journalists, "I think they were suspected terrorists, as they committed suicide. A normal boat even carrying drugs can surrender."
"The location was not (a) normal sea route; even the smugglers normally take the busy route so that they can mingle with boats. Pakistan is trying to divert attention after what happened in Peshawar," he said.
He cited "circumstantial evidence" indicating that the boat had a "suspected terror link." He also lauded the Coast Guard for doing the "right job at (the) right time, based on intelligence inputs."
"The Coast Guard reacted immediately, the boat was on surveillance for 12 hours and it was intercepted as soon as possible," Parrikar told journalists.
He made these remarks in a press conference after laying the foundation stone for National Institute of Defence Estates at Raksha Sampada Bhavan.
Parrikar dismissed claims that the occupants were smugglers, instead saying he would classify them as "suspected or possible terrorists" since they had "committed suicide" after being intercepted. The Indian Coast Guard had said in its report that the boat crew had chosen to set the vessel on fire instead of cooperating with them for the boat's inspection.
"Smugglers don't keep in touch with Pakistani maritime agency, or their army or international contacts," he said.
"Smugglers don't keep in touch with Pakistani maritime agency, or their army or international contacts."
Parrikar also said that the boat crew was in touch with Pakistani maritime officials, "army and international contacts." He told journalists that the boat was neither in a fishing area nor any of the busy routes preferred by smugglers. He said that their actions indicated that they were there for "some other kind of activity. We are not sure what is that other kind."
"A normal boat, even carrying some drugs, can throw away their drugs and surrender. No one is going to be killing himself unless you are motivated enough to do that," he said.
Meanwhile the Congress has asked the government to "come clean" on the matter. BJP has retaliated by saying Congress was providing "ammunition to Pakistan" and playing "petty politics" on terror.
"There are speculations but I don't intend to be part of speculations except saying one very important aspect that the location (where the boat was found) is not a normal route for a fishing boat," said Parrikar.
Parrikar said the second boat that is also believed to be in the vicinity when the incident took place was at the time in the Pakistani Exclusive Economic Zone.
"The Coast Guard reacted immediately, the boat was on surveillance for 12 hours and it was intercepted as soon as possible."
The Indian Coast Guard on Friday had claimed that it had averted a possible terror attack on new year's eve when a suspicious fishing boat was intercepted and chased by them. The boat crew did not surrender, according to the Indian Coast Guard's statement, and instead chose to set fire to their boat, which led to an explosion.
The incident had been reported in the Arabian Sea India-Pakistan maritime boundary, approximately 365 kilometres away from Porbander in the Gujarat coast.
The four persons on board disregarded warning shots from the Coast Guard and tried to hide themselves in the lower deck of the vessel, according to the Defence Ministry.
According to earlier reports, call intercepts had revealed that two Pakistani fishing boats, one of which sank after being intercepted by the Coast Guard, were in frequent touch with Pakistan army and Maritime Security Agency of Pakistan through a "contact".
Ultimately, the boat burnt and sank in the early hours of January 1, including all the people on board who could not be saved or recovered.
(with agency inputs)