Security forces killed four militants allegedly belonging to the Jaish-e-Mohammed terror group after hours of gun battle at a high-security air force base in Punjab's Pathankot near the Pakistan border and employed the might of the Indian fire power to hunt down any surviving terrorists who launched the pre-dawn attack camouflaged as Indian army men.
Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar met the three Service Chiefs, the intelligence chiefs and National security advisor Ajit Doval, who is overseeing the operation.
Attack helicopters fired at an area inside the base while through the day shots could be heard. The attack started before dawn when at least four gunmen entered the living quarters of the base, but were unable to penetrate the area where fighter helicopters and other military equipment are kept, AP quoted air force spokeswoman Rochelle D'Silva as saying.
IAF was using its two helicopters to assist the joint team of ground troops to neutralise the remaining terrorists.
By midday it appeared that the gunbattle was over with the killing of the gunmen and two of India's security personnel. But fresh gunfire erupted at the base and a grenade was lobbed. The attacks came barely a week after Prime Minister Narendra Modi made an unscheduled visit to Lahore to greet his Pakistani counterpart, Nawaz Sharif, on his birthday. The spontaneous gesture gave many hope that this was a new beginning in the soured ties between the two nuclear-armed neighbours.
Home Minister Rajnath Singh said India is interested in keeping peace with its neighbours but if threatened, it will give a fitting response to attacks on its soil.
"Desh ko apnay sena aur suraksha agencyion par naaz hai (the country is proud of its security forces), Singh said. "I am happy that our forces gave a befitting response in Punjab, I am proud of them," he said.
"Pakistan is our neighbouring country. We want good relations with not just Pakistan but with all our neighbours. We also want peace but if there is any terror attack on India, we will give a befitting reply," he said.
Anticipating an attack after some armed men abducted an SP of Punjab Police on Thursday night, a team of NSG commandos had been rushed here last night itself after the NSA held a series of meetings with the Army Chief and top IB officials. The terrorists could not enter the technical area of the IAF station, which is the base for MiG-21 fighter planes.
Army had positioned two columns (comprising about 50 men) and a team of Special Forces at the Pathankot Air Force station prior to the attack. Punjab police had also been put on alert and Additional DGP had been positioned in Pathankot to oversee the security situation.
"The fierce gunbattle between terrorists and security forces went on for over five hours. However, during the combing operation fresh firing was reported and a blast was also heard," Punjab Police ADGP (Law and Order) H S Dhillon.
Top security officials in Delhi said the intent of terrorists clearly was to cause maximum destruction at the Air base which was thwarted in "one of the most successful counter-terror operations".
An alarm had been sounded about the attack yesterday after Superintendent of Police Salwinder Singh and his two associates were abducted and thrashed by 4-5 suspected Pakistani terrorists in army uniform before being dumped some distance away. They had slit the throat of the SP's friend Rajesh. Those who attacked Singh had also taken away his phone and reportedly used it for making calls to Pakistan.
In the wake of the attack, Punjab has been put on maximum alert while security measures were also tightened in neighbouring Haryana and common capital of the two states-- Chandigarh and Himachal Pradesh, official sources said. Security measures were beefed up at Chandigarh Air Force Stations at Chandigarh and Halwara in Punjab and at air base in Ambala.
Besides, security has also been beefed up at Army areas at Chandimandir and at Ambala cantt following terrorist attack at Pathankot. Security at railway stations of both Punjab and Haryana had also been increased, officials said.
Security was also tightened on the Pathankot-Jammu National Highway.
FLASH: Gunshots heard again during combing ops in #Pathankot attack— ANI (@ANI_news) January 2, 2016
The terrorists, with huge quantity of RDX in their possession, made their way to the base from the back side where there is a jungle.
The intruders were restricted to the area between the main gate and the entrance to the technical area that comprises administrative office buildings, canteens, housing, the officers’ mess, airmen’s mess, reported Indian Express.
Home Minister Rajnath Singh: aaj subah 3 baje hamla hua, NSC, sena aur Punjab police ney iska muh tod jawab dia hai pic.twitter.com/wQ5Ifc80Q3— ANI (@ANI_news) January 2, 2016
This is the second big terror attack in Punjab within less than a year as last year three militants stormed a police station in Dina Nagar before being eliminated after a 12 hour gun battle.
As the news of the terror attack spread, it triggered panic among the local residents.
"I was sleeping when a neighbour rushed to my home early this morning and informed me about the attack.I could not believe that terrorists had struck for the second time as the area had seen an attack recently," said Gursharan Singh, a resident of Pathankot.
The Congress targeted Prime Minister Narendra Modi after the attacks.
"It s indeed a very serious matter as seven days after PM Modi visited Pakistan to meet his counterpart Nawaz Sharif, a terrorist module comes from Pakistan and attacks in Punjab and attacks our frontline security installation. Two things are very clear. First despite PM visit to Pakistan, ISI continues to sustain and support terror activities against India.
Also Read: Chronology Of Terror Strikes In Punjab
"The current module appears to have come from Pakistan in the same fashion. Secondly the terror camps that are run by terrorists for carrying on anti- India activity in POK continues to be supported by Pakistani establishments," AICC Communication department chief Randeep Surjewala told reporters.
"It raises security concerns for Punjab as the state is witnessing a sudden surge in such activities after being peaceful for the last 20 years," he said.
"The moment that Modi touched down in Lahore (and probably even before), something like this was doomed to happen," Michael Kugelman, a South Asia expert at the Wilson Center think tank in Washington, told Reuters.
"At this point, there's sufficient goodwill in India-Pakistan relations to weather this attack. Saboteurs won't win this one," he said.
Pakistan has condemned the attack and said it wanted to build on the goodwill created in the recent high-level contacts.
"Pakistan remains committed to partner with India as well as other countries in the region to completely eradicate the menace of terrorism," foreign ministry spokesman Qazi Khalilullah said in a series of tweets.
(With inputs from agencies)
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