The Pakistani authorities have deployed large contingents of soldiers and policemen at one of the country's largest nuclear facilities in Dera Ghazi Khan following 'serious' threats from the local Taliban, a media report said on Thursday.
Besides the deployment inside and around the nuclear installation, three army divisions in the southern part of Punjab have been asked to launch a crackdown against banned groups, The Express Tribune reported, quoting its sources.
This could be the first ever security threat to a nuclear facility in Pakistan and the army and security forces are taking no risks, the report said. The daily quoted sources in the military and Punjab Police as saying that the nature of threat at the nuclear installation is 'serious', with an 80 per cent chance of occurrence.
The Inter-Services Intelligence reportedly intercepted a telephone call from the Pakistani Taliban, during which members of the banned group were heard 'finalising their strategy for attacks on nuclear installations in Dera Ghazi Khan', the paper said.
"Dera Ghazi Khan houses one of the largest nuclear facilities in the country and has faced the first ever serious security threat from the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan," an unnamed high-ranking military officer serving at the installation was quoted as saying.
According to an official who works at the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission, a key military and civilian fuel cycle site is located 40 km from Dera Ghazi Khan.
The site comprises uranium milling and mining operations and a uranium hexaflouride conversion plant. According to the telephone call intercepted by the ISI, three to four vehicles carrying suicide bombers were about to enter Dera Ghazi Khan and could strike the nuclear facilities at any time.
Sources told the daily that, according to precedents, threats intercepted via phone calls often materialised within 72 hours. Direct threats via phone or letters often do not materialise, the sources said.
Dera Ghazi Khan district police chief Chaudhry Saleem confirmed the threat and said that police had received instructions from the military officer in charge at the nuclear installation to beef up security around the facility as much as possible.
The Pakistani Taliban started sending threats to the installation after the attack on Kamra airbase on August 16, Saleem said.
The police have established six new pickets around the nuclear installations and deployed heavy forces over the past 24 hours, he said. Sources said a large contingent of military personnel from Multan cantonment has reached the site and beefed up the inner cordon of security.
Military personnel have also been deployed near the border between Punjab and Balochistan. Sources in law enforcement agencies told the daily that when the Pakistani Taliban attacked Kamra airbase, they announced that they would take revenge for killing of their South Punjab head Abdul Ghaffar Qaisrani by attacking nuclear installations in Dera Ghazi Khan.
The police in Dera Ghazi Khan had killed Qaisrani and eight of his companions in a gun battle in the first week of August, almost clearing his network in the area. Police were able to trace Qaisrani after they interrogated Adnan Khosa, who attacked the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore in 2009 with Qaisrani.
Khosa is currently imprisoned in Dera Ghazi Khan. Qaisrani's elimination caused a major loss to the local Taliban in south Punjab and the militant group vowed to take revenge.
According to local politicians, the Dera Ghazi Khan nuclear site and adjacent areas had previously been a target of attacks by Baloch insurgents but not the Taliban. The Taliban's threat is alarming for the region, politicians said.
Officials in the counter-terrorism department said there are around a dozen pockets in south Punjab, particularly near the border areas of Dera Ghazi Khan district, where the Taliban is increasing its clout.