Terror attacks Pathankot air force base, India-Pakistan thaw

Official said the terrorists were unable to enter the area where MiG-21 fighter aircraft, attack helicopters and other military hardware are kept.

Written by Navjeevan Gopal , KAMALDEEP SINGH BRAR | Pathankot | Updated: January 3, 2016 4:51 am
Pathankot: An armored vehicle moves near the Indian Air Force base that was attacked by militants in Pathankot, Punjab on Saturday. PTI Photo (PTI1_2_2016_000051B) An armored vehicle moves near the Indian Air Force base that was attacked by militants in Pathankot, Punjab on Saturday. (Source: PTI)

A week after Prime Minister Narendra Modi made an unannounced trip to Pakistan counterpart Nawaz Sharif’s home in Lahore to signal the willingness at the top to revive ties between the two countries, heavily-armed terrorists, suspected to be members of the Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Muhammad, attacked the Pathankot airbase in a pre-dawn strike Saturday.

Security forces, including commandos of the National Security Guard and Army and Indian Air Force personnel, engaged the terrorists, and gunbattles through the day left at least four terrorists and three security personnel dead — there are fears that the count of dead among security personnel may be higher. It was unclear how many terrorists were in the assault team.

Read | Highlights of the operation from Pathankot airbase

Officials said search and sanitising operations at the airbase were continuing to eliminate the possibility that more intruders could be holed up inside. They said the terrorists were unable to enter the area where MiG-21 fighter aircraft and attack helicopters were parked. As security forces on the ground engaged the terrorists, attack helicopters took to the air.

A senior military officer said the terrorists entered the airbase around 3 am from a point that adjoins a village. That area of the airbase has housing for personnel, administrative offices, an officers’ mess and the Defence Services Corps Mess. The building they entered first was the DSC Mess.

WATCH VIDEO

“The personnel inside were taken by surprise,” the officer said. Five DSC men were shot at. The DSC comprises ex-servicemen who provide security cover to installations of the three services and civil establishments of the Ministry of Defence.

The airbase had been on high alert since Friday evening after two incidents off the Jammu-Pathankot highway early Friday. One was the murder of a taxi driver, and the other the hijacking of an SUV of a Superintendent of Police who managed to escape and alert the police.

ALSO READ: Pathankot terror attack strikes at heart of PM Modi’s Pakistan peacemaking 

Police initially disbelieved the SP’s story which led to delay in joining the dots. But by afternoon, when the taxi driver’s body was also found, the police had a clearer picture. They sent a CD of the SP’s interrogation to the National Security Advisor. Other intelligence inputs, said to be based on phone calls made by the terrorists to Pakistan, had also started coming in.

The NSG arrived at the Pathankot airbase and the Garud commandos of the IAF were also placed on high alert.

One terrorist was shot down as he was clambering over a 10-ft wall topped by concertina wire. Another account said he was shot as he tried to squeeze inside after removing a water-exit grill below the fence.

After the shooting spree at the the DSC Mess, the terrorists split into two groups.

One group hid in a building next to a furniture yard, while the other hid in sarkanda, a patch of tall grass, the official said. The NSG, which went after the group in the building, contemplated blowing up the structure but held back when they realised that three IAF ground liaison officers were also inside.

Later, they approached the building in a Casspir, a mine-protected vehicle. The terrorists, armed with assault rifles and grenades, were eliminated after a long battle.

The group in the sarkanda was taken on by military personnel, and “neutralised” after a long and fierce firefight, the officer said.

Suresh Arora, Director General of Punjab Police, whose men assisted in the operation along with the Border Security Force, said late Saturday the “operation is still on”.

(PTI adds: In a statement, the IAF said it had intelligence that such an attack would take place. “Intelligence inputs had been available of a likely attempt by terrorists to infiltrate into the military installation in Pathankot area. In response, preparatory actions had been taken by the Indian Air Force (IAF) to thwart any such attempt,” it said.

“The infiltrators were immediately engaged and contained within a limited area, thus preventing them from entering the technical zone where high value assets are parked. Through timely and prompt action by all agencies, the likely plan of the terrorists to destroy valuable assets of the Air Force has been foiled,” it said.)

The sprawling airbase is located adjacent to highway around Pathankot that connects to Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh and various cities of Punjab, Amritsar on one side and Chandigarh and Jalandhar on the other side. Adjacent to the airbase is the populated locality of Dhaki whose residents woke up to gunshots around 3 am Saturday.

“The security arrangements around the airbase had been in place since Friday evening itself. I have never seen such heavy security arrangements around the airbase before. Helicopters had been hovering in the sky since yesterday itself,” said a locality resident Ankit Sareen. “I woke up to gunshots at around 3 am,” said another resident Janak Raj.

For all the latest India News, download Indian Express App

  1. S
    Sirius
    Jan 3, 2016 at 4:01 am
    In Delhi-NCR, there is a sudden increase in number of fruit-sellers on cart. They are young and well built , sometimes well dressed, often in groups, chatting away and show little interest in selling their stuff. If you engage with them as a buyer, you become aware of their community and their dialect of speaking. I fear that these persons are part of "sleeper cells" , awaiting activation for appropriate mission(s). I hope the police have them in their radar, and are photographing /profiling them.
    Reply
    1. मनीष
      Jan 3, 2016 at 5:25 am
      Every time when India is terrorized by stanis, Indian Muslims have provided support to those stani terrorists. Enough is enough. Excluding the SICKulars, any Indian who wants to contribute to the war against terrorism in India, should stop buying things made in an Islamic country and stop doing business with a Muzzie owned store/business. You have to act!
      Reply
      1. मनीष
        Jan 3, 2016 at 4:36 am
        Every time when India is terrorized by stanis, Indian Muslims have provided support to those stani terrorists. Enough is enough. Excluding the SICKulars, any one in India wants to contribute to this war against terrorism in India, should stop buying things made in an Islamic country and stop doing business with a Muzzie owned store/business.
        Reply
        1. Y
          Yogita
          Jan 3, 2016 at 6:25 am
          Lack of Sincerity by the s - all they only want but give nothing in return
          Reply
          1. D
            Dillip Patnaik
            Jan 3, 2016 at 4:52 am
            Pathankot attack by terrorist should not derail the Modi-Sharif peace dialogue. Both side be vigilant, gather and should share terrorist activities and prepare to foil before they attack. Rajnath and Parikar should not relax and make speeches. They should strengthen the intelligence gathering and prepare before the terrorist resume their attack and every state police terrorist wing must gather intelligence and share and prepare to counter attack the terrorist before they launch their attack.
            Reply
            1. G
              Gangadhara Mudda
              Mar 9, 2016 at 4:35 pm
              s gallore
              Reply
              1. S
                S Subramaniam
                Jan 3, 2016 at 4:35 am
                After the successful 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks all subsequent terror strikes are copy book and identical. We need to strengthen our intelligence gathering system and timely/corrective measures. The case Ranjith K K, ex-Air Force employee is shocking and he does not have any remorse. He has has tarnished the image of Indians and Keralites. My heartfelt condolences to the bereaved families and I sincerely pray to the Almighty to give strength and courage to face the irreparable loss of their beloved ones in terror attacks. May their souls RIP.
                Reply
                1. M
                  Me Marathi
                  Jan 3, 2016 at 6:06 am
                  You pick up any part of Delhi, UP, Bihar, Hyderabad, Kerala, Karnataka, Maharashtra, JandK, and you come across bearded fanatics. Let us all make a point to keep a vigil and report to local police and Army about their where about and keep a close watch on them. Surveillance should be stepped up against potential jihadi fanatics.
                  Reply
                  1. Load More Comments