Confusion persists over no. of militants involved in Pathankot attack

  • Rajesh Ahuja and Aseem Bassi, Hindustan Times, New Delhi/Gurdaspur
  • Updated: Jan 09, 2016 01:36 IST
Soldiers are seen on the top of a building at the Indian Air Force base in Pathankot, a day after the end of military operations against terrorists. (PTI Photo)

A week after a deadly terror attack hit Punjab’s Pathankot airbase, confusion persists over the number of militants involved, sources said on Friday.

A senior official said while the National Security Guard (NSG) which led the counter-terror operation maintains it killed six militants, bodies of just four attackers have been recovered.

“The remaining attacker or attackers were badly charred and we are only left with their ashes from the second encounter site. We are getting DNA tests done to ascertain whether they belong to one attacker or two,” said the counter-terror official, requesting anonymity.

Doubts over the number of attackers have lingered since the terror strike began last week.

On January 2, sources in the internal security establishment told HT that “all four” attackers had been killed. But home minister Rajnath Singh tweeted about five terrorists being neutralised. He deleted the post later as the encounter raged on.

The next day, Union home secretary Rajiv Mehrishi and Air Marshal Anil Khosla said two terrorists were holed up at the airbase while four had been killed.

While Punjab police officer Salwinder Singh, who was allegedly abducted and later released by the terrorists, mentioned five gunmen in his first complaint before authorities, a friend and a cook who were with him at the time counted four militants.

The NIA on Friday issued summons to the SP— also being probed by local police on a bigamy charge— to appear before it on Monday for detailed interrogation.

A Punjab intelligence officer said the air force station may have been saved from large-scale damage because the terrorists accidentally left a walkie-talkie in Salwinder Singh’s car and could not contact the other team that was already inside the airbase, allowing government forces more time to prepare.

Authorities were also left baffled when a combat-style search near the Tibri army cantonment in Gurdaspur not far from the base came to naught after locals reported seeing two men in military fatigues acting suspiciously near the military facility.

Security forces had arrived in armoured cars on Thursday afternoon, carrying rocket launchers and latest weapons to catch the two men after a drone detected their presence.

But the combing ended without a shot being fired as the suspected militants seemed to have vanished into thin air.

(With inputs from Chitleen K Sethi in Chandigarh and Kamaljit Singh Kamal in Gurdaspur)

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