The blue beacon atop the Mahindra XUV of Superintendent of Police Salwinder Singh helped the terrorists, who hijacked the vehicle, get past several police checkposts on Friday. It is suspected that the same lot of terrorists entered the Pathankot airbase because the SUV was found abandoned a little over 500 metres away.
SP Salwinder Singh, his jeweller-friend Rajesh Verma, and Verma’s cook Madan Gopal, had set out for Gurdaspur from Talur village in Pathankot around 10 pm. Unsure of the route, they stopped at two police checkposts for directions. Verma, who was at the wheel, drove towards Kolian village to take the Taragarh-Dinanagar link road to Gurdaspur.
Taxi driver Ikagar Singh too happened to be on the same road. He had received a phone call around 9.30 pm from Channi village, purportedly to help take a person to hospital. Ikagar drove 4 km from his home in Bhagowal to reach the Khatana T-point, where there is a turn for Kolian village. Incidentally, it is the same road that the three terrorists, who carried out the Dinanagar terrorist attack on July 26, 2015, were suspected to have used.
Police officers trying to reconstruct the sequence of events pre-dawn Friday said the sugarcane fields at the turn was possibly where the terrorists were hiding when Ikagar showed up in his Innova. They stopped the Innova, got in and forced him to drive.
It is suspected that after driving 1.5 km, Ikagar crashed the Innova into a rock by driving down a slope before the Katloh overbridge over the Ravi. Police believe Ikagar, a father of two children, tried to run but was killed by the terrorists.
The terrorists returned to Khatana T-point in the damaged Innova. And it was then that the SP showed up in his SUV.
An officer said a checkpost with five policemen on the Taragarh road near Kolian village received a message that a police officer in a SUV was making surprise checks. The terrorists had crossed this checkpoint twice earlier. Seeing the blue beacon atop the SP’s vehicle, the policemen saluted and let it through.
The SUV then went past the checkpost on Katloh bridge. It travelled another 30 km to reach the toll plaza on the Gurdaspur-Pathankot highway between 11.30 pm and midnight, where it was again waved through because of the blue beacon.
The vehicle was found abandoned in Akalgarh village, a little over 500 metres from the airbase. The terrorists tried to slit Verma’s throat but he pretended to be dead and survived. He is undergoing treatment at a hospital in Pathankot.
Sources said that as per Verma’s account, the terrorists used a mobile phone to stay in touch probably with their handlers or accomplices. A police officer said there were four terrorists and one of them also made a call to Pakistan to his “mother” from Verma’s mobile phone, addressing her as “Ammi Jaan” and speaking to her for a while.
“Their hands were tied with the turban cloth of the SP and they were told not to leave the place till they (terrorists) come back at 8 am after finishing a task. The terrorists probably dumped the duo thinking that it was difficult to handle three persons and they told them that they were taking along their friend, that for his safe return, they should not move from that place,” the official said.
It was only later that the terrorists learnt from Verma that Salwinder Singh was a police officer.
“They spoke to someone over phone and when they said that the man they had dumped was a senior police officer, they were instructed to go back and take the SP hostage again. But by the time they returned, the SP and the cook had managed to leave the place. Infuriated, they decided to slit the throat of Verma. They said isko jannat pahuncha do (send him to paradise). Luckily, the injury was not fatal. Verma pretended to be dead. They also kicked him,” the officer said.
According to the officer, the terrorists were addressing each other as “alpha, major, commander”.
“While on phone, they informed the person on the other side that they had reached the safe place,” the officer said quoting Verma. The officer said the terrorists also asked about Amritsar airport and “any good route to reach there”.