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Sun 26 Jun 2005 04:00 AM

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Thuraya phones seized in India

A LARGE consignment of Thuraya satellite phones have been seized by Indian customs officials, who claim they were intended for use by terrorist organisations in Kashmir.

A LARGE consignment of Thuraya satellite phones have been seized by Indian customs officials, who claim they were intended for use by terrorist organisations in Kashmir.

The handsets were part of a shipment intercepted at Indira Gandhi International airport outside New Dehli earlier this month, which also included wireless sets, explosives and detonators.

The consignment, seized by India’s Customs Preventative Unit at the airport’s cargo complex, was sent from Jeddah in Saudi Arabia and was intended for delivery to the Kashmiri city, Srinagar.

The airport had been put under high alert after twin blasts in the capital city during May, according to local reports.

The UAE satellite company declined to comment on the seizure of the handsets, which are sold to the public through its distribution partners and often retail at over US$1000.

It is unclear who bought the phones, which of the company’s partners sold them and whether the phones had been activated before reaching India. Mohammad Amin Khan, a resident of Srinagar, was taken into custody after approaching customs officials to claim the consignment.

Indian security officials had been waiting for the shipment’s intended recipient to pick it up, and are believed to have tracked the consignment after receiving a tip-off. They reportedly found 40 Thuraya satellite phones, dozens of high-frequency wireless sets, detonators and a powder-like substance, which the officials said appeared to be explosives.

There is believed to be widespread use of satellite phones by militant groups in the Kashmir Valley, because of the absence of telecommunications infrastructure and the relative difficulty of intercepting and listening in on calls.

Thuraya, meanwhile, announced the launch of low-cost scratch card denominations earlier this month which are intended to cater to low-income clients in developing markets. The new denominations are for US$10 and US$20, much lower than previous denominations. The scratch cards are used for refilling Thuraya’s subscriber prepaid mobile accounts and for fixed, maritime and data services.

“There was a clear demand for lower value scratch cards to satisfy certain market segments especially in Africa and Asia,” said Yousuf Al Sayed, chief executive, Thuraya.

The Abu Dhabi-based operator also plans to launch a high-speed satellite internet service branded as “ThurayaDSL”.

Thuraya’s service covers 120 countries and much of Europe, Africa, the Middle East and central Asia and South Asia, but a large part of its customer base is believed to be situated in war-torn countries such as Iraq and Afghanistan where terrestrial infrastructure is in a poor state.

It said recently that it had signed up 230,000 subscribers by the end of last year, missing its target of 300,000. However, its revenues increased to US$457 million from US$286 million in 2003.

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