A soldier was killed in an explosion during a combing operation near an air force base in Punjab’s Pathankot and three security personnel died from injuries on Sunday, a day after at least four terrorists were shot dead in a 15-hour gun battle at the strategic facility.
Fresh firing and multiple blasts were heard from inside the airbase in the morning, leading to speculation that a militant could be holed up inside. Officials were tight-lipped and gave no details about the situation at the base.
One commando of the elite Indian Air Force (IAF)’s special Garud unit and two Defence Security Corps personnel died on Saturday in the daring attack at the airbase - before the terrorists suspected to be from Pakistan were gunned down.
But uncertainty prevailed over the number of terrorists being killed, with home minister Rajnath Singh withdrawing a tweet putting the number at five.
In Pathankot, a fresh explosion and gunshots were heard around 9.15am on Sunday. Lieutenant Colonel Niranjan of the anti-terror force National Security Guards (NSG) was killed in the blast during combing operations, PTI reported, and added at least two more were injured.
“We are pained to know about demise of Lt Col Niranjan of NSG... The nation salutes his sacrifice,” home minister Singh said.
Another explosion was reported shortly after noon and an injured NSG commando was rushed to a hospital, even as five National Investigation Agency (NIA) officials reached the airbase around 11.30am.
The NIA will probe Saturday’s attack, which is seen as an attempt to undo recent progress in India’s relationship with Pakistan.
Air force spokesperson Rochelle D’Silva said combing operations to secure the Pathankot air force base were continuing by late Sunday morning. The army, NSG, IAF, paramilitary forces and Punjab Police were involved in the massive operation.
IAF helicopters could be seen flying through the night and early on Sunday to assist ground forces.
The attack on the air base, which is home to a large fleet of MIG 21 fighter planes and MI-25 attack helicopters, came barely a week after Prime Minister Narendra Modi made an unannounced visit to Lahore to meet with his Pakistani counterpart, Nawaz Sharif, in a sign of possible thawing of relations between the two countries.
A defence source said the terrorists were from Jaish-e-Mohammed, a Pakistan-based group blamed for the December 2001 attack on Parliament that killed 11 people.
(With agency inputs)