Dinanagar (Punjab), July 27 (IANS) A senior police officer was among six people killed here early Monday when four terrorists who sneaked in from Pakistan opened random fire before storming a police station complex, sparking a fierce gun battle that shattered two decades of calm in Punjab. One attacker was killed.
Superintendent of Police Baljit Singh succumbed to injuries suffered in the gunbattle between security forces and terrorists — who were in military fatigues and said to be heavily armed — holed up in the complex in Dinanagar, 15 km from the Pakistan border, officials said.
As security forces have not been able to take control of the besieged complex, officials said the death toll may be more than the victims so far accounted for. The lone terrorist died in the police station.
“We were hit by a burst of gunfire. I was hit on the shoulder,” said a polce sub-inspector. “They are firing indiscriminately every five minutes.”
The clearly well-planned dawn attack took by surprise the small town of Dinanagar in Gurdaspur district, which borders Pakistan and which was once a hotbed of Sikh militancy. Gurdaspur also borders Jammu and Kashmir.
In New Delhi, Prime Minister Narendra Modi soon went into a huddle with senior ministers. Punjab officials said that contrary to initial reports, no one had been taken hostage.
Modi met Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar and Finance Minister Arun Jaitley. No details were available. But Parrikar earlier said that counter insurgency forces had reached Dinanagar.
In an allusion to the terrorist belonging to Pakistan, Home Miniser Rajnath Singh told media persons: “If we are hit, we will give a befitting reply.”
He said “we want peace with Pakistan, but not at the cost of national honour.”
The home minister spoke to Border Security Force (BSF) chief D.K. Pathak and told him to step up the vigil on the India-Pakistan border in the wake of the Gurdaspur attack.
Minister of state at prime minister’s office, Jitendra Singh, told The Hindu that the attack was likely orchestrated by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency.
The terror drama began around 5.30 a.m. when the terrorists hijacked a passing car on the outskirts of Dinanagar after shooting its driver. They then drove into the town, shot the owner of a roadside ‘dhaba’, fired at a bus headed to Jammu and then stormed the police station complex where two Home Guards were killled.
Two civilians died when the terrorists fired at a nearby hospital, police officials said.
As panic gripped Dinanagar, police and troops from a nearby army unit quickly surrounded the police station complex and traded gun fire with the terrorists inside. Superintendent Baljit Singh, who was in the forefront, took a bullet on the head and was rushed bleeding to a hospital where he died.
Police officials said that Punjab Police commandos were leading the operation, with the army’s Special Forces and the National Security Guards (NSG) providing the second ring. Television crews were asked not to provide live footage of the fighting.
This was the first major terror attack in Punjab after the assassination of then chief minister Beant Singh on August 31, 1995 in Chandigarh, joint capital of Punjab and Haryana.
Nearly nine hours later, the fighting raged at the police station. The terrorists continued to lob grenades at the security forces, who officials said wanted to take the militants alive.
The police station complex, including houses meant for policemen’s families, an adjoining government hospital and houses nearby were evacuated and cordoned off by security forces.
Dinanagar town is located 25 km from the Jammu and Kashmir border and 235 km from Chandigarh.
Additional Director-General of Punjab Police, Dinkar Gupta, said the attack took the police in Dinanagar by surprise.
It happened a day after Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal faced pro-Khalistan slogans at a function at Punjab University in Patiala.
In a related development, five live bombs were found on the Amritsar-Pathankot railway track on Monday.
The bombs were found by a passerby on a bridge near the Parmanand railway station. Trains on the route were halted. The army defused the bombs.
A train that was to pass on the route was stopped just 200 metres from the spot where the bombs had been planted.
In New Delhi, Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi and Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal condemned the terror attack.