Punjab Police personnel said on Monday they heard terrorists shout 'Allah hu Akbar' — Arabic for 'God is great' — before three attackers were killed after an intense gunfight in Gurdaspur district, indicating the assault was a suicide attack.
Heavily armed men stormed a police station in the Punjab district close to the border with Pakistan, killing six people and wounding several others. Armed police exchanged fire with the attackers, who were holed up in the police station after the assault began at 5.30am. The police were sweeping the area after the three terrorists were killed.
A source in the Punjab Police said Khalistani militants were not known to carry out such suicide attacks. India fought a deadly Sikh insurgency in Punjab in the 1980s that peaked with the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi at the hands of her Sikh bodyguards in 1984. Sikh militant groups were demanding an independent homeland for minority Sikhs at the time, which they called Khalistan.
Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal said the incident had nothing to do with the revival of terrorism in Punjab and that it appeared to be an attack carried out by a terrorist group active outside the state.
Watch: Terrorists attack police station, senior cop among 6 killed
"The Khalistanis never indulged in suicide strikes at any target. This is clearly a suicide attack, perpetrated by some known terror groups," former Punjab Police chief Julio F Ribeiro said after the attack on Monday.
News agency Reuters, meanwhile, quoted police sources as saying that the attackers entered India from Pakistan two days ago in the troubled state of Jammu and Kashmir.
Jitendra Singh, a junior minister in Prime Minister Narendra Modi's office, said he did not rule out Pakistan's involvement. "There have also been earlier reports of Pakistan infiltration and cross-border mischief in this area," said Singh, whose constituency in the Jammu region borders Gurdaspur.
Earlier this month, Modi met his Pakistan counterpart Nawaz Sharif and agreed top security officers from the two countries would meet to discuss counter-terrorism. Modi also agreed to visit Pakistan next year.