Contradicting Home Minister Rajnath Singh’s earlier statement in Parliament that six terrorists had attacked the Pathankot air base in January, the government told the Lok Sabha on Tuesday that there were only four terrorists. “Four Pakistan-based terrorists entered Punjab via Janial road, Dhusi turn, near Ravi river bridge, Gulpur Simli village – Akalgarh and attacked the Air Force station in Pathankot,” said Minister of State (Home) Hansraj Gangaram Ahir in a written reply to a question from Congress MP Ravneet Singh.
In contrast, Rajnath Singh has repeatedly claimed, both inside and outside Parliament, that six terrorists were involved in the Pathankot attack. In his last statement in Parliament, he even quoted a forensic report to support his claim. As reported by The Indian Express, NIA investigators found only four bodies, along with four AK 47 rifles and three pistols, with no evidence of more terrorists being present at the air base.
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But the National Security Guard (NSG), which kept firing at an airmen’s billet for two days on the suspicion of two terrorists being holed up there, had claimed there were six terrorists. This claim was first made public by Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar and Home Minister Rajnath Singh in their statements to the media. The NSG later claimed that it had come under fire from inside the billet, and even heard conversations through special equipment.
However, the NIA could not find any remains of weapons, explosives or human body from inside the completely destroyed billet. Even the Intelligence Bureau (IB), through various call intercepts, had come to the conclusion that there were four terrorists.
On March 2, The Indian Express reported that forensic investigations had failed to find human bone or tooth fragments in a charred mass claimed to be the remains of a terrorist killed by the NSG in the airmen’s billet. That would be essential for a DNA test to settle the debate over the number of terrorists involved in the Pathankot attack.
On March 16, however, Rajnath Singh told the Lok Sabha that it had been established that there were six terrorists. “Some charred remains were found there (billet). A forensic report about them has been received. The report makes it clear that those inside the building were two terrorists,” Singh had said. Quoting the report, he said, “This burnt mass material belongs to human male. It could not be possible to establish the identity of burnt male remains as under reference.”
On January 13, The Indian Express had reported how a manhunt launched to trace “two intruders” spotted on January 4 through thermal imaging cameras led to the death of two pigs. The cameras mounted on helicopters had picked up the movement of the pigs and security forces confused them for terrorists.
Ahir’s reply, which is generally prepared by bureaucrats in the home ministry or agencies concerned, has left the ministry red-faced. There was considerable discomfort over the issue in the ministry on Tuesday, amid an informal inquiry on who framed the answer.
The government is now getting ready for damage control as the issue has been picked up by Pakistani media. Home Ministry sources said Ahir would make a correction in Parliament on Wednesday, and the government would stick to its earlier stand that there were six terrorists.
In his reply today, Ahir said all the four terrorists were killed by security forces who recovered 4 AK rifles, 32 AK magazines, 3 pistols, 7 pistol magazines, one under barrel grenade launcher, 40 hand grenades and one dagger from them.