Two soldiers were killed in a terror attack on the family quarters of the Sunjuwan military station here early on Saturday. While no outfit has claimed responsibility so far, both the Army and police said the Masood Azhar-led Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) was behind the attack. Sources said three of the attackers have been killed, and the operation is still “in progress”. FOLLOW LIVE UPDATES
The attack comes amid an alert across the state on a possible strike by the JeM, in view of the death anniversary of Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru on February 9 and Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front founder Maqbool Bhat on February 11. However, sources said, security agencies were focussing on Kashmir, and did not expect an attack in Jammu.
Confirming two deaths, a statement issued by the Army said “nine others, including five women and children, are injured, two of them being critical”. The Army identified the dead soldiers as Hony Lt Madan Lal Choudhary from Kathua district, and Havildar Habibullah Quereshi from Kupwara. State Parliamentary Affairs Minister Abdul Rehman Veeri told the Assembly that the injured included Colonel Rohit Solanki, officiating commanding officer of 6 Mahar, Havildar Abdul Hamid, Lance Naik Bahadur Singh and Choudhary’s daughter Neha.
In pictures | Here’s how the attack unfolded
“The operation is still going on,’’ Director General of Police S P Vaid told The Sunday Express. “Intercepts suggest that the terrorists involved in the attack belong to Jaish-e-Mohammad group,” he said.
“Two to three terrorists are still out there. The actual number of terrorists involved in the attack will be known only once the entire area is cleared by the Army,” said Vaid. Asked if the attackers had come from within the state or directly from across the border, he said, “As of now, it isn’t known where they came from and how they reached this Army camp.”
The Army too said the attack was carried out by the JeM. “A search of their belongings confirms the terrorists to be from Jaish-e-Mohammad,’’ it said. “The terrorists, wearing Army combat dress, were carrying AK 56 rifles, large amount of ammunition and hand grenades.”
Saying that the “operation is in progress with extreme caution and restraint to safeguard the unarmed soldiers, women and children in the houses”, the Army said “most of the over 150 houses in the complex have been cleared and occupants moved to safety”.
Senior Superintendent of Police, Jammu, Vivek Gupta, said that “around 4:25 am, somebody called the station house officer after hearing gunshots in the area”. “By then, the terrorists had already sneaked inside the camp… The camp is spread over a vast area and it is difficult to pinpoint the place where the breach happened,’’ he said. “Jaish flags were recovered from the terrorists who have been killed,” he added.
“The quick response teams have cordoned off the area and isolated the terrorists, who are holed up in a few houses,” said an Army spokesperson. Army helicopters were pressed into service to track their exact location.
According to sources, four-five terrorists are suspected to have sneaked into the military station through its rear wall, which is broken at various places. After a brief exchange of fire with the sentry, they entered the residential complex.
Though the military station was attacked in 2003 also (nearly a dozen soldiers were killed), its rear wall is broken at several places, with just some tin sheets to keep out trespassers. Only two of its entrances have multiple layers of security.
Sunjuwan military station is the third largest Army installation in the state, after Northern Command headquarters in Udhampur and Badami Bagh cantonment in Srinagar. Spread over a radius of nearly 7 km, it serves as the headquarters of 36 Infantry Brigade. This is the second attack on a military installation on the outskirts of Jammu city in over a year now, after the attack at Nagrota in November 2016.
Home Minister Rajnath Singh on Saturday spoke to DGP S P Vaid and took stock of the situation. “The DGP has apprised him of the situation. The MHA is closely monitoring the situation,” the Home Minister’s office tweeted. The NIA has been put on stand-by.
Meanwhile, a defence ministry official said Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman has cleared a proposal worth Rs 1487.27 crore for perimeter security of multiple army establishments across the country. The work will be closely monitored by Army Headquarters, and is scheduled to be completed by December 2018.
This follows the recommendations of a committee headed by former Army Vice-Chief Lt General Philip Campose (retd) to review existing security infrastructure and suggest measures to strengthen security at defence installations, following the terror attack at Pathankot Air Force station in January 2016. It had recommended measures like strengthening security fences, improvement in security lighting, and installation of intrusion alarm system with sensors and surveillance. But the progress on these recommendations has been slow so far, as the ministry has been involved in a process of deep consultations with the three services.
(With ENS, New Delhi)