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ISLAMABAD: Armed guards now protect buildings that were once abuzz with activity, employees pass through security checks and freshly installed barbed wire greets visitors to most media offices in the aftermath of the latest attack against ARY News in Islamabad.

The federal government had issued a threat alert regarding the possibility of an attack on media houses late last November.

The Punjab government had directed divisional police chiefs to tighten security around media houses, citing intelligence reports that militants affiliated with the self-style Islamic State (IS) – also known by its Arabic acronym Daesh – were planning to target their offices in Punjab.

A senior federal government official told Dawn that a ‘threat alert’ regarding the possibility of an attack on the media had been issued by the authorities, and law enforcement agencies were directed to tighten security around media houses.

Sources said that the Punjab Home Department had directed the police, Counter Terrorism Department (CTD) and other departments to thwart any such attempt.

The modus operandi of the attackers would be indiscriminate shooting with assault rifles and hand grenades, the intelligence report warned.

This information rang true when assailants hurled an explosive device inside the ARY News office in Islamabad on Wednesday.

Sources say that police are searching for a Honda 125CC motorcycle, which is believed to have been used in the attack. CCTV footage of the attack has yielded information that the police are following up, sources said.

Islamabad SP City Ahmed Iqbal has also announced a reward of Rs 10,000 and an appreciation certificate for the police official who traces the motorcycle and impounds it.

New threat

The federal government’s National Crisis Management Cell (NCMC) has issued a fresh threat alert, warning that the outlawed Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) may be planning to hit a big target in the twin cities.

The alert, issued a couple of days ago, claims that a group of three attackers may target another media house. However, when asked, Rawalpindi City Police Officer Israr Ahmed Abbasi said that the threat was not specific to any media group, but police had been deployed at media offices around the city.

He said police had also launched a search operation around the Rawalpindi Press Club.

Search of journalist’s residence

The capital administration, in a statement issued on Thursday, claimed that the search of a journalist’s residence in the Sihala area was not meant to harass the media, but was conducted in accordance with the set legal procedures.

The statement was issued following protests by the journalist community after the house of New York Times correspondent Salman Masood was searched by Rangers personnel, on Tuesday. The interior minister had also taken strict notice of the incident and asked the interior secretary to investigate how and why it came to pass.

Thursday’s statement, issued by the Islamabad district administration, stated that Rangers presence had been requisitioned in the city under the Anti-Terrorism Act 1997, and that the law empowered civil armed forces to conduct search operations in Islamabad. It was ensured that the area magistrate should accompany the search parties during all such activities, the statement read.

“It is an established fact that such search operations form the backbone of a pre-emptive counter terrorism strategy,” the handout said.

Published in Dawn, January 15th, 2016