IN WHAT is being described as a major security lapse, at least two terrorists sneaked in nearly 2 km across the Line of Control (LoC), entered a General Reserve Engineer Force (GREF) camp at Battal, killed three sleeping workers and escaped without facing any resistance early Monday. According to security sources, the terrorists doused the workers with fuel obtained from a GREF office nearby before setting them ablaze. Then, they fired at the bodies of the workers and some vehicles parked in the vicinity, said sources, adding that another worker was injured in the attack.
The attack — the first in the Jammu region this year — came only four days after the new Army Chief General Bipin Rawat had visited Akhnoor and Rajouri, and reviewed security and operational preparedness across the Northern Command theatre.
Police identified those killed as Ramesh Tapu of Jharkhand, and Salman Khan and Irshad Alam. Tapu had been working at GREF sites in the area over the last decade and was scheduled to return home this week to get married later in the month. Salman and Irshad had reached the camp only last week, sources said. The injured worker, Abdul Aziz of Partapgarh district, is undergoing treatment.
The GREF is the parent cadre force of the Border Roads Organisation (BRO) that builds and maintains border roads in the country. “The Manawar Tawi river, which flows from India to Pakistan, is nearly 500m ahead of the GREF camp. Across the river is a hill with an Indian outpost and the famous Katau temple on top. Troops keep vigil on the river from atop the hill but there is no patrol along the river banks. Taking advantage of the dense fog and chilly weather conditions, the terrorists may have sneaked in through Manwar Tawi, which has little water at present,” said sources.
Providing details of the attack, sources said that the terrorists reached the GREF camp at around 1 am. “The main gate had been damaged by a vehicle last week and there was no sentry on duty there. The terrorists targeted the first barrack near the gate, where four labourers engaged by the GREF were asleep. Ten others, all local residents, had gone home for the weekend. The terrorists did not notice another barrack nearby where over a dozen GREF employees were asleep, probably due to poor visibility,” said sources.
“Then, the terrorists moved towards Battal village and came across a water-point used by troops, where they threw a grenade and moved into the dense forests under cover of fog. Troops from an Artillery unit around 300m away fired in the air at around 4 am but the terrorists had escaped by then,” said sources.
Defence Ministry spokesperson Lt Colonel Manish Mehta said the area had been cordoned off and a search operation was in progress. SSP (Jammu) Dr Sunil Gupta, who visited the spot, said the possibility of the terrorists having already returned to Pakistan cannot be ruled out.
This was the first such attack by terrorists in the area. In 2010-11, a group of terrorists had taken some civilians from nearby Jogwan village hostage and asked them to chart the route to Rajouri. But some of those held captive escaped and the rest were later released unharmed.
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