Punjab Police say they are treating the alleged car-snatching of a Superintendent of Police and his two companions on the Jammu-Pathankot highway in the early hours of Friday as a possible terror attack.
A statewide alert has been issued by Punjab Police, and the Army’s units in Pathankot as well as the police in Jammu are also monitoring the situation.
SP Salwinder Singh, his friend Rajesh Verma, a jeweller, and Verma’s cook Madan Gopal were in the police officer’s SUV when they were allegedly waylaid by a group of five armed men in Army fatigues on the Pathankot-Jammu highway. In statements to the police, Singh and Verma said the men were carrying “heavy weapons”.
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The men allegedly got into the SUV, assaulted and robbed the three men, forced them out of the vehicle 20 km away, and later abandoned the car in a village in Himachal Pradesh.
About three km from the spot where Salwinder alleged he and his accomplices were waylaid, the police also recovered the body of a man identified as a taxi driver, Ikagar Singh. A Toyota Innova belonging to Ikagar Singh was also found abandoned at a distance with one of its tyres punctured. The sarpanch of Ikagar’s village, however, said his car was found at the exact spot where the three men were allegedly waylaid.
Police have registered two separate FIRs — on charges of murder in the case of Ikagar’s death, and on abduction and robbery charges in Salwinder’s case.
Inspector General, Border Range, Lok Nath Angra said, “We have been looking at it as a terror activity. We also suspect that both incidents could be correlated. ADGP (Law and Order) H S Dhillon has reached Pathankot and will hold a meeting with the BSF and Army authorities. We have beefed up security in the area.”
DIG Border Range Kunwar Vijay Partap Singh said a combing operation had been launched in the area.
Sources said the Intelligence Bureau’s teams have questioned Salwinder and the two other men about the incident.
A top police official who did not wish to be named said the incident could “possibly” be a terror attack. “I do not eliminate this possibility,” said the official.
The official said Border Range police had issued an alert about suspected infiltration of armed men from across the Pakistan border into Indian territory earlier this week.
However, a top BSF official said there was no evidence of any crossover bid from across the border.
Quoting from Salwinder’s complaint, DSP Pathankot (Rural) Kuldeep Singh said, “Salwinder told us he was coming back from Talur village in his personal SUV after paying obeisance at a religious place… They reached a fuel station in Kolian village, Pathankot, around 1 am. Five persons signalled them to stop. Verma, who was driving, stopped the vehicle. The men were dressed in Army fatigues and were heavily armed. Salwinder said there is a blue beacon on his vehicle, which was switched off when they were asked to stop.”
“All five men got into the vehicle and started assaulting the three occupants. After travelling around 20 km, they stopped the vehicle and tied Salwinder and Gopal to the trees. They took Verma with them and threw him out of the car about four km away. He sustained minor injuries,” said Kuldeep.
“Meanwhile, Salwinder and the cook managed to free themselves and reached a nearby house, from where they called police at 2:45 am. The SUV was found abandoned in a village that falls in Himachal Pradesh, near Pathankot,” Kuldeep added.
Kuldeep said the alleged assailants also snatched mobile phones from Salwinder and Verma.
On Ikagar’s murder, Kuldeep said, “He was a native of Bhagwal village in Pathankot. He got a call Thursday night from a person who said he wanted to take a patient to a hospital. This morning, his body was recovered from a spot near Dhusi dam. His Toyota Innova was found near in Kolian village, about 1.5 km from his body.”
Salwinder was posted as SP (Headquarters) Gurdaspur until December 31, when he was transferred to 75th battalion, Jalandhar.