The four terrorists who attacked the Pathankot airbase last week spent up to 24 hours resting inside a disused Military Engineer Services shed as they prepared to launch their attack, highly-placed sources in the National Investigation Agency (NIA) have told The Indian Express. This raises the prospect that the attackers may have been aided by reconnaissance conducted earlier.
“From the evidence we’ve gathered,” an official familiar with the investigation said, “it’s pretty clear that the men broke open the lock on one of the MES buildings in a junkyard where disused equipment was stored, and made themselves at home.”
NIA investigators, the official said, have found evidence that the men had eaten a meal inside the MES shed, as well as signs they had moved furniture around to create space to sleep in the dusty building.
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“The timeline we’ve built is based on study of the site, as well as questioning of multiple witnesses working in the airbase and civilians outside of it,” the official said.
Last week, The Indian Express reported that the attackers had jumped over the perimeter wall of the base by climbing a eucalyptus tree, and then laid a nylon rope after cutting the barbed wire atop the fence.
“The best guess we can make,” the official said, “is that the men rested, waiting for dark to fall, and then moved at a time when they knew the guards would be tired, just as a shift of the guard was due to take place.”
“It is just not possible that the terrorists would have had the confidence to take such a long break unless they knew the MES yard was unguarded, and barely visited by base staff,” the official said.
Following their detection by IAF surveillance assets, the attackers ran into a building used by base guards, opening fire and killing five unarmed personnel.
The official said that while the interrogation of Punjab Superintendent of Police Salwinder Singh was still underway, no evidence has surfaced that he was linked to the attack. “He has cooperated with investigations fully, sharing details of multiple trips to Thailand which were of a personal nature,” the official said. “However, there is no suggestion he had any connection to terrorism.”
NIA officials said they remain uncertain precisely how many attackers were involved in the strike. Four bodies have so far been recovered, along with four Kalashnikovs, three pistols and ammunition. Forensic samples of a chunk of charred material found in a burned-out billet, where fighting raged for two days, has been sent for tests to determine whether these were remains of a body.
“We’ve been going through the rest of the debris using a sieve,” said an NIA official, “but so far we’ve had no success in locating anything that looks like part of a weapon, nor bone fragments.”