Suspected Pakistani terrorists stormed a police station in Punjab’s Gurdaspur district on Monday, killing seven people and wounding 10 others in an attack that is likely to cast a cloud on resumption of dialogue between India and Pakistan.
The terror strike came weeks after prime ministers Narendra Modi and Nawaz Sharif met in Russia and agreed that top security officers from the two countries would meet to discuss counter-terrorism.
The 11-hour siege in Punjab ended after government forces surrounded the building in Dinanagar town and gunned down the three militants suspected to be from Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT). The area’s superintendent of police (detective), Baljit Singh, was among those killed, apart from three security personnel and three civilians.
Investigations revealed that the gunmen were Punjabi-speaking Muslims on a suicide mission with body parts shaven and all marks erased to trace their origins back to Pakistan, officials said. Fidayeen (suicide) attackers ritually shave themselves before embarking on a mission, sources observed.
“All ordnance factory marks and numbers on the AK-47s had been erased and so were the marks on the grenade canisters,” a top security official told HT. “There is nothing to trace the weapons to China or Pakistan. The attack appears to have been planned in great detail so that Pakistan can claim total deniability as no communication was exchanged.”
Two GPS devices found on the bodies were sent to a forensic laboratory to trace the infiltration route, but no identity documents, food, SIM cards or medicines were recovered.
“All we have is three bodies with clean-shaven private parts indicating that they were on a suicide mission and one of them spoke in Punjabi during the attack,” the official noted. “Our assessment is that these terrorists infiltrated across the international border in Punjab and could belong to the LeT as the modus operandi is similar to the (2013) Hiranagar attack in Jammu.”
Watch: Terrorists attack police station in Gurdaspur, senior cop among 10 killed
Home minister Rajnath Singh warned Pakistan of a “befitting response” before meeting defence minister Manohar Parrikar, national security adviser Ajit Doval and Border Security Force chief DK Pathak in Delhi to take stock of the situation.
“I want to tell our neighbour that we want peace but not at the cost of our national pride,” he said during a visit to Madhya Pradesh. “I have said this earlier and I will say it again that while we will not be the first to attack or fire, but if challenged, will give a befitting response.”
Doval termed the attack “serious”, with sources saying he was in constant touch with home secretary LC Goyal to keep tabs on the developments in Gurdaspur.
The government also ordered the BSF to plug all gaps in its vigil at the Indo-Pak border and find out how the terrorists managed to sneak in.
A home ministry official said a human intelligence (Humint) input, or intelligence gathered by means of interpersonal contact, received last week suggested two to four LeT men could try to slip into India from Pakistan’s Sialkot-Shakhargarh area to carry out a suicide attack. The information was shared with border guarding forces, asking to them to remain alert.
“This is the first time that terrorists after sneaking in from Pakistan in Jammu area have come downwards to Punjab,” said another official. “There is heavy police presence in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) due to the annual Amarnath Yatra. That might be the reason why they came down to a border district in Punjab,” said another home ministry official.
Islamabad said it was not aware of any reports that the people involved in the attack were Pakistani, while it condemned the incident and offered condolences to the victims’ families.
“We condemn in the strongest terms the terrorist incident in Gurdaspur, India, today, in which a number of precious lives have been lost. There are reports of others having suffered injuries. Our thoughts are with the bereaved families,” said a statement from the foreign office in Islamabad.
The gunmen struck a moving bus in Dinanagar at 5.30am, spraying bullets at passengers, wounding four. They then targeted a health centre followed by a building where the families of police personnel reside and hurled grenades before entering the police station.
The attack is one of the worst in Punjab since the 1980s and 90s when the state was reeling under a spate of Sikh insurgency over the demand for an independent Khalistan that peaked after the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi at the hands of her Sikh bodyguards in 1984.
Five bombs were also found on a railway track in the area, hinting at a sweeping terror ground plan around the time India is marking the anniversary of the 1999 Kargil conflict with Pakistan.
“The devices had no timer. They could have gone off through pressure mechanism when a train would have passed over the track. We suspect that the three gunmen planted the IEDs before attacking a bus station and police station in Dinanagar,” a home ministry official said.
Attacks on security installations by militants dressed as soldiers or police are common in Jammu, but Monday’s was the first such assault in Punjab in 13 years, according to data from the South Asia Terrorism Portal, which tracks militant violence.
Former J&K chief minister and National Conference leader Omar Abdullah said the timing, tactics and location of the Gurdaspur attack were “eerily similar” to the terror strikes in the border belt of Jammu.
The Congress condemned the attack and blamed it on “intelligence failure”, while the opposition party hit out at the neighbouring country.
“The terror attack is not only a security lapse on the border but also a failure of intelligence agencies,” party leader Anand Sharma said. “On what assurance and understanding did the Prime Minister issue a joint statement after their meeting in Russia?”
(With inputs from Vinay Dhingra in Gurdaspur)
(With agency inputs)
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