The four terrorists who waylaid a vehicle in the early hours of January 1, and went on to raid the Indian Air Force (IAF) base at Pathankot, spoke in Urdu and Hindi. One of them was addressed as “Major” by the other three, and seemed to be the team leader. They spoke on the phone to a “commander” seven or eight times and made at least one possible reference to another group of terrorists, according to Rajesh Verma, who was in the vehicle when it was hijacked off the Jammu-Pathankot highway.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Verma, a jeweller, who was travelling with SP Salwinder Singh and his cook Madan Gopal when their vehicle was stopped by the terrorists, said he heard them making a call to someone they addressed as “commander”, informing him that they had got a vehicle.
“I was driving the car of SP sahib. He was sitting next to me in the front. Gopal was sitting behind. When the men stopped us, SP Sahib, thinking they were soldiers, pulled down the window. Before he could say anything, they overpowered us and bundled me into the back of the car,” he said. The SP and Gopal were later tied up and left behind.
The terrorists asked Verma how far the Amritsar airport was. “They asked how many times the vehicle would be stopped at checkposts on the way to Amritsar,” he said. Verma said the terrorists then called up the “commander”, and spoke to him in Urdu. “The only thing I could understand was the word Air Force, which they used repeatedly,” he said.
According to Verma, the men may have been using a GPS device. “I did not see the device, but they were talking about some blue line. I heard one terrorist saying, ‘blue line aa rahi hai, iska matlab hum nadi ke paas paas hain (I can see the blue line, this means we are near the water channel),” said Verma. “The man then said, ‘hum target ke paas pahunch rahe hain (we are reaching the target)’,” he said.
“At one place, there was a huge mound of earth. The team leader asked the man who was driving the vehicle to go over it. When the driver said the car would not make it, ‘Major’ replied, ‘Nahin nahin. Jayegi, abhi to isi raaste se gaadi gayi hamaari (The car can pass, our other vehicle too went through the same route just now’),” said Verma.
The men were carrying assault rifles, and each had a heavy backpack. At one point, one of the terrorists asked for a Red Bull, an energy drink, but was told that the “cans got crushed in the previous car”, a reference to the first car they had hijacked and had to abandon after the driver crashed it before he was killed by them.
On instructions from the ‘commander’, they also took some money from Verma’s wallet. “The terrorists told ‘commander’ that they had taken four notes of Rs 500 each, each of them taking one note. One of them said, ‘ye do hazaar ke liye hum tere ehsan mand rahenge, Rajesh (We will remain indebted to you for the two thousand rupees)’,” Verma said. There was more money in the wallet, but the terrorists left the rest.
At one point, the terrorist who was driving the vehicle unknowingly set off the car’s police hooter. The men then wanted to know if it was a police officer’s car.
“I told him it was the SP’s car… Then they spoke to the ‘commander’ again, who apparently told them to get the SP. We went back to the place, but SP Sahib and Gopal had escaped,” said Verma, who was in the car with his captors for about four hours.
Angry at losing them, they turned to Verma. “Tere ko maarna nahi tha hamney, lekin unhone dhokha diya. Ab tu ja jannat (We would not have killed you, but they betrayed us, now you go to heaven),” they reportedly told him, before slashing his throat with a knife.
Verma said he could feel the blood trickle from his neck. “I pretended that I was unconscious, I kept lying there for five to seven minutes,” he said. It was at this place that the men abandoned the car. Verma knocked on nearby houses, before one family finally let him in and provided help. He was discharged from hospital on Monday.
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