With a probe team from Pakistan scheduled to arrive on March 27, the National Investigation Agency (NIA) is likely to send the charred remains recovered from a building inside the Pathankot airbase after the January attack for a second forensic examination to reconfirm the involvement of six terrorists.
On Wednesday, Home Minister Rajnath Singh had read out in Lok Sabha the forensic report from the first examination, conducted in Chandigarh, confirming the involvement of six terrorists in the attack.
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But Home Ministry sources said the suspected remains of two terrorists, believed to have holed up inside the airmen’s billet, would now be sent to the forensic science laboratory in Hyderabad “for a re-examination”.
The Indian Express had reported on March 1 that investigators had failed to find even small fragments of weapons, grenades, or human bones to support the National Security Guard (NSG) claim that it battled two terrorists inside the billet, in addition to the four killed some distance away.
Besides, IAF thermal imagers had caught only four individuals entering the airbase — after the operation was over, only four bodies of suspected terrorists were found along with four AK-47 guns.
Sources said the re-examination has been “advised” to help arrive at a concrete conclusion so that no doubts can be raised in a court of law.
Sources said that reconfirming a forensic report was “a routine practice” in important cases. “It’s a sensitive case where we are looking for cooperation from Pakistan. Their team is going to arrive here soon and all these reports and evidences would be shared to help them investigate the case at their end. We have to make sure that no one can raise a finger on any evidence,” said a security officer.
On Thursday, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj had announced that a Special Investigation Team (SIT) from Pakistan, formed to probe the Pathankot attack, would arrive in India on March 27 and “begin their work” the next day.
Interestingly, the forensic report read out by the Home Minister in Lok Sabha confirmed that the remains belonged to “two males” but added that the DNA could not be extracted from the remains.
Quoting from the report, Singh had 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.”
Asked how the lab had concluded that there were two men involved, when it could not extract DNA from the remains, sources said the report was based on material recovered from two different spots in the billet.
“Curiously, the charred remains were handed over to NIA in a rag that was allegedly the remains of the terrorists’ dress. The agency needs to find out how the dress survived such intense fire when bodies along with bones almost evaporated. These are questions that may be asked in a court of law, a second confirmation would settle the debate with finality,” said a Home Ministry official.
The NSG had claimed that a grenade was lobbed at its men from the airmen’s billet from where a terrorist also fired at them using a pistol. However, despite a thorough investigation, the NIA could not find any traces of the pistol. “It could not have evaporated or melted. Iron cots kept inside the billet are intact,” said the official.