Pathankot (Punjab), Jan 3 (IANS) Security agencies in Punjab are investigating the movement of terrorists 24 hours before they launched a pre-dawn Fidayeen attack on the IAF base near here on Saturday, especially in context of the resources they may have used to reach the high-security target after sneaking into India from the border with Pakistan.
The security and investigation agencies, including the National Investigation Agency (NIA), are trying to reconstruct events from the night of Dec 30-31 to the terror attack on the Indian Air Force (IAF) base around 3.30 a.m. on Saturday.
They want to know how the suspected Pakistani terrorists, numbering five, could easily make it to the frontier IAF base despite intelligence inputs that they were going to target a high profile defence target in the area.
“The first report about the terrorists being in the area came early on Friday (Jan 1). For nearly 30 hours, they remained inside Indian territory. For 24 hours before the IAF air base attack, information on the terrorists was available after the senior police officer and two others were abducted in his car. The vehicle, with a blue beacon, was used to pass through security barricades from the border belt up to Pathankot,” a senior Punjab Police officer told IANS.
The lapses on the part of the Border Security Force (BSF) in preventing infiltration from Pakistan in the Bamiyal sector, adjoining Gurdaspur (Punjab) and Kathua (Jammu and Kashmir) districts, and the Punjab Police, which looks after security of areas near the border belt, are now being investigated at the highest level, top police sources said.
Investigating officers said the terrorists killed a taxi driver and injured the friend of the police officer by slitting their throats with sharp-edged weapons and deliberately did not use the AK-47 and other weaponry they had to ensure that their identity was not revealed before the terror attack and the incidents looked like “normal crime”.
The terrorists, who are believed to have entered India through the Ravi river along the barbed wire fenced international border, about 35 km from here, on Dec 30-31 night are suspected to have booked an Toyota Innova multi-utility vehicle (PB 06-G-0061) in the border belt through a call made from a Pakistani number.
“Smugglers on both sides of the border may be using local support for their activities. The same may have been used by the terrorists,” said the police officer.
The Innova driver, Ikagar Singh, 30, of Bhagwal village near the border, could have picked up a fight with the terrorists after they got into his car, according to the police.
Tell-tale signs of the Innova hitting a tree near Kolia village on the Bamiyal-Pathankot road and getting badly damaged and the blood spattered in nearby agricultural fields indicated the move of the taxi driver to stop the terrorists from proceeding further and he being killed in cold blood by the terrorists.
Since two tyres of the Innova got burst in this process, the terrorists waited on the road for some other vehicle to pass by which they could stop.
At this point, the Mahindra XUV of Punjab Police Superintendent of Police Salwinder Singh, who was coming back after offering prayers at a nearby shrine, came near where the terrorists were stranded. The terrorists, who were in army fatigues, signalled the car to stop.
As it did, the terrorists forcibly entered it and hijacked it. They hit the officer and his companions with weapon butts and drove towards Pathankot. Since the car had a blue beacon, it was not stopped by security personnel at the Punjab Police picket at Kathlaur bridge on Ravi river or any other barricades ahead.
While the officer was dumped after some distance, they slit the throat of his friend, Rajesh Verma, and left him for dead near Akalgarh village, close to the IAF base. The terrorists abandoned the XUV near Akalgarh village.
“From the time they abandoned the vehicle to the time of the attack, there was a gap of nearly 24 hours. The terrorists must have been hiding somewhere. If they were out in the open, someone may have spotted them. This needs to be investigated,” the senior police officer said.
During this time, the terrorists took away the mobile phone of the officer and made calls to their handlers in Pakistan. One terrorist even called his mother in Bahawalpur in Pakistan.
Despite the area being on high alert, the terrorists walked up to the rear wall of the IAF base and launched the attack around 3.30 a.m. by firing on Defence Security Corps (DSC) personnel and entered one portion of the base.
However, the terrorists faced stiff counter offensive from National Security Guards (NSG) commandos, IAF commandos and the army’s Special Forces. After a gun-battle of over 15 hours, security forces neutralized four terrorists on Saturday. A gunfight started again on Sunday morning during search and combing operations after it was found that one to two terrorists could still be holed up inside the base.
(Jaideep Sarin can be reached on [email protected])