Pathankot became the stage of the first major terror incident of 2016.
At around 3:30 am, just before dawn, at least four terrorists attacked the Indian Air Force base in the city that lies just 39 kms to the north of Gurdaspur, the site of the July 27 terror attack – Punjab’s first in 20 years.
The attacks have left three Air Force personnel dead, including one Garuda commando.
It has been confirmed that the four terrorists have been killed in the gunbattle with security forces that include NSG, army and Garuda commandos.
At the same time, sounds of explosions and firing were heard even at around noon from within the air base indicating the presence of even more terrorists inside.
AP Photo/Channi Anand
The needle of suspicion immediately points to Pakistan. According The terrorists reportedly came in after crossing the border with Pakistan – just 30 kms from Pathankot.
It is suspected that the terrorists belong to Jaish-e-Mohammed – the group headed by Maulana Masood Azhar.
Maulana Masood Azhar is the same man who was one of the three terrorists released in the IC814 hijacking incident of 1999.
The other two were Mushtaq Ahmad Zargar and Ahmed Umar Sayyed Sheikh. A year later Masood Azhar would go on to create Jaish-e-Mohammed in Pakistan.
That this terror attack is linked to Masood Azhar can be understood from reports stating that the terrorists came from Bahawalpur in Pakistan.
Bahawalpur is Azhar’s birthplace and the centre of his terror operations. It lies just north of the Thar desert in Pakistan.
Location of Bahawalpur on Google Maps.
In 2001, it was Azhar’s Jaish-e-Mohammed that carried out the terror attacks on the Indian Parliament. That singular incident sent shockwaves across the country and brought India and Pakistan at the brink of another war.
Pathankot Air Force Base is the home of IAF’s No.3 Squadron. The Squadron has participated in some of India’s major wars before and after Independence, including the 1965 and 1971 wars against Pakistan.
The Squadron flies the MiG-21 Bison fighter aircraft and is, therefore, a critical military installation for India’s defence. In a statement the Defence Ministry said that security forces had intelligence on a possible terror attack on the base and, therefore, “preparatory actions had been taken by the Indian Air Force (IAF) to thwart any such attempt”. “Due to the effective preparation and coordinated efforts by all the security agencies a group of terrorists were detected by the aerial surveillance platforms as soon as they entered the Air Force Station at Pathankot,” the MoD said, adding, “The infiltrators were immediately engaged and contained within a limited area, thus preventing them from entering the Technical zone where high value assets are parked.”
A fifth terrorist was neutralised late in the evening but combing operations were still on.