IN a first-of-its-kind terrorist attack in the country, two explosive devices were dropped from a suspected drone on the Indian Air Force Station in Jammu early on Sunday.
Two back-to-back explosions, which according to sources occurred at 1.37 am and 1.42 am, injured two Air Force personnel.
The roof of a building was damaged, but the explosive devices missed the aircraft hangar nearby. No valuable equipment was damaged in the attack.
Security officials said “some aerial platform” was used to drop the bombs. “However, whether it was a drone or something else is a matter of investigation,” an official said.
The Air Force Station is about 14-15 km from the nearest point on the International Border (IB) with Pakistan. The farthest that a drone from Pakistan has so far come on the Indian side of the IB and Line of Control (LoC) in the Jammu region is 12 km.
Officials said the possibility of the drone being controlled from Indian territory could not be ruled out.
The use of a drone to mount a terrorist attack marks the beginning of a new security threat for the country. The threat from armed drones was discussed by the Indian security establishment some years ago.
One of the explosive devices left a crater on the roof of a building at the station; the other exploded in an open area, sources said.
The explosions were heard up to a kilometre away, and caused some panic among residents of these areas.
The two injured IAF personnel, Warrant Officer Arvind Singh and Leading Aircraftsman S K Singh, were given first aid. Sources in Military Intelligence said neither of the men have confirmed if they heard a drone before the explosions.
“The injured personnel have given statements that they came out of the building after hearing a blast, and that they sustained splinter injuries after the second blast,” an officer told The Indian Express.
The attack on the Air Force Station took place a few hours after Jammu and Kashmir Police arrested an alleged Lashkar-e-Taiba operative with an improvised explosive device (IED) weighing nearly 5 kg in Jammu.
Police said the Pakistan-based terrorist outfit had planned to carry out a bombing in a crowded area in Jammu. Additional Director General of Police Mukesh Singh said the alleged Lashkar operative was being questioned.
The meeting, the Centre’s biggest political initiative since the constitutional changes of August 5, 2019, was described by the Prime Minister as an effort to remove both “dil ki doori’’ and “Dilli ki doori”.
The short official statement issued by the IAF on the Jammu attack did not mention the use of a drone. In two posts on its official Twitter handle, the IAF said:
“Two low intensity explosions were reported early Sunday morning in the technical area of Jammu Air Force Station. One caused minor damage to the roof of a building while the other exploded in an open area.
“There was no damage to any equipment. Investigation is in progress along with civil agencies.”
A senior IAF official in New Delhi said: “It seems like a drone attack; there were two explosions — one on the roof of the building and one right next to it. The investigations are on, and all angles are being probed at the moment.”
Another IAF officer said “the likely target of the attack was a helicopter parked at the dispersal” close to the single-storey building that was hit.
Unmanned aerial vehicles from Pakistan have in the recent past dropped weapons along the IB and LoC in Jammu and Kashmir.
On June 20 last year, the BSF shot down a drone carrying a US-made M4 semi automatic carbine, two magazines, 60 rounds of ammunition, and seven Chinese grenades near the IB in Rathua village of Kathua district.
The drone’s cargo was intended for one Ali Bhai on the Indian side of the border.
Over the past few months, police have seized aeroplane-shaped balloons marked “PIA” at several places in Jammu division. Some of these balloons had managed to fly fairly deep inside India’s border.
Following the terrorist attacks on the Jammu Air Force Station, police registered a case under Sections 16 and 18 of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, which relate to conspiracy and commission of a terrorist act, sources said.
Some suspects are learnt to have been rounded up for questioning.
Teams of the National Investigation Agency (NIA) and the National Security Guard (NSG) had taken charge of the site of the explosions on Sunday.
Western Air Commander Air Marshal V R Chaudhari visited the Jammu Air Force Station. A state of high alert has been sounded by the Army and Air Force at key military stations and Air Force stations across the region. Bomb disposal squads have been stationed at select military stations from where they can be despatched at short notice if needed.