An over 20-hour gap between terrorists reaching Pathankot airbase and the attack has investigators scratching their heads. It has now emerged that four terrorists, who attacked the airbase at 3.30 am on January 2, abandoned the car they used to reach the facility at 3 am on January 1.
The Mahindra XUV belonged to SP Salwinder Singh, who has claimed that the terrorists waylaid him and his cook at 11.30 pm on December 31 near Kolian village, nearly 24 km from the airbase, and then left with the car. The car was found abandoned near the airbase at 11 am on January 1.
“For over 20 hours, the terrorists were just hiding,” said a Home Ministry official. Investigators are trying to find out where the terrorists were hiding and why they took so long to launch an attack, considering that waiting raises the danger of being caught.
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The circumstances of the terrorists’ entry do not provide a clear picture of when they actually entered the airbase. While around 3 am on January 2, an IAF UAV fitted with thermal imagers detected the movement of four people near the perimeter wall, there is no clarity on when the concertina wire over the wall behind the DSC mess was breached. Terrorists fired the first bullet around 3.30 am from near the DSC mess.
Investigators on Tuesday found the concertina wire cut and a nylon rope hanging on the inside. “We do not know when the wire was cut. The lights on that stretch were not working. We may not be able to ascertain why the terrorists waited for so long as they are all dead,” said the official.
It is also not clear how investigators concluded that the car was abandoned at 3 am on January 1.
Almost all terror attacks in the past couple of years in Jammu and Punjab have seen terrorists launching assault within hours of infiltration.
Meanwhile, the NIA said Friday that it had summoned the SP to Delhi on Monday for a detailed interrogation. Sources said he may be subjected to a lie detector test, as he has been frequently changing his statement.
An NIA spokesperson also said the postmortem of the terrorists’ bodies had been conducted on Thursday and their body tissues preserved for DNA sampling. DNA samples have also been collected from the two vehicles used by the terrorists and have been sent for forensic examination. Forensic tests on footprints recovered from a field in Bamial from where the terrorists are suspected to have entered and those found at the airbase are also being conducted.
Apart from weapons, four AK 47 rifles and four pistols, the NIA has also recovered food items and medicines on the terrorists. Many of these bear the names of Pakistan companies. “Search of IAF station is being conducted to recover any trace evidence left behind by the terrorists. Four NIA teams are camping in the districts to verify facts and examine witnesses,” said an official.