A year-long probe into the Pathankot airbase attack by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) has failed to answer an important question – Kitne aadmi thay? (How many were there?)
Even in its chargesheet likely to be filed on Monday, the NIA has decided to tell the court that it could establish the presence of only four terrorists at the airbase. It may say the probe into the presence of more attackers was still on, further deepening a mystery that has shrouded the case from the very start.
The document might tell the court that “oral, documentary and scientific evidence such as DNA profiling reports have established the presence of four terrorists at the scene of crime. The expert opinion of the Central Forensic Science Laboratory regarding the charred/burnt mass, including pieces of clothes and parts of a pithu-bag recovered from a residential billet (at the airbase), was inclusive as far as revealing anybody’s identity, age, origin or number of people is concerned”.
- The NIA has decided to tell a court that it could establish the presence of only four terrorists at the Pathankot airbase.
- It may say the probe into the presence of more attackers was still on.
- The NIA chargesheet will narrate the sequence of events leading up to the attack.
The NIA chargesheet will narrate the sequence of events leading up to the attack, and try to clarify its position on the exact number of attackers. It might say that “four heavily armed terrorist infiltrated into Indian territory on December 30, 2015, from Pakistan... through the forest area near the Simbal border outpost of the BSF, close to Bamilyal village at the Indo-Pak border in Punjab”.
The attackers’ phone conversations with family members and handlers revealed that they remained hidden near the border till the next day, and hijacked an Innova at 9.35 pm before killing car driver Ikagar Singh. However, an accident forced them to leave the Innova and hijack Punjab superintendent of police Salvinder Singh’s private SUV. After forcing Salvinder and his cook out of the vehicle, they tried to kill another occupant – Rajesh Verma – by slitting his throat. Verma, however, survived.
The four terrorists entered the airbase on the intervening night of December 31 and January 1, and remained hidden till dusk the following day. Security forces neutralised the four on the night of January 2.
The second encounter, which reportedly involved two more terrorists, took place on the ground floor of a two-storey structure – known as Airmen Billet – at the base. Airmen were evacuated from the upper floor of the building. The building was demolished in the encounter that ensued, and charred remains were recovered from two places.
Sources said the remains – devoid of bones and teeth – were sent for forensic tests to verify if they belonged to humans. Three months after the attack, home minister Rajnath Singh informed Parliament that the remains were found to belong to human males. However, their identities could not be established.
Side-stepping the question whether the people hiding in the structure were terrorists, the NIA chargesheet might say: “Due to the absence of any recovered arms from the billet, its residential nature and inconclusive DNA analysis report of the charred remains, the presence of any other terrorists could not be established till date”. This, it would insist, is the reason why the matter needs to be investigated further.