As the guns fell silent at the Pathankot airbase on Tuesday with security personnel killing six heavily armed terrorists and investigators trying to retrace the attackers’ steps, the spotlight once again fell on the curious case of a police officer allegedly abducted and later released by the militants.
Though superintendent of police Salwinder Singh says the information he provided helped minimise loss of life, he has been questioned by authorities and the NIA too is examining him.
Punjab police denied having caused any delay in sharing inputs provided by Singh but they are increasingly coming under fire for alleged lapses in collating the information in the first few hours after receiving it.
Sources say investigators are trying to determine why the terrorists, who killed the driver of another car they hijacked, released the SP and those with him.
While top police officers from the state admit they took the information given by Singh over the phone about his kidnapping with a pinch of salt, they added that once the matter was verified, no efforts were spared in alerting all the agencies that needed to be in the loop.
“Salwinder has a certain reputation and we were wary of him,” said a top cop. “Moreover, he was under transfer and was facing a departmental inquiry for a serious complaint. It did cross our mind that he might just be cooking up information.”
Singh told HT he stopped his car on Friday when four to five men in military-style clothing signalled him to halt and he had no reason to believe or could tell in the darkness they were terrorists in disguise moving in an area where army movements are routine.
“I did not have any weapon. Nor were my guards with me,” he said. “Had they been with me or had I been carrying my gun, I would have killed the terrorists.”
The gunmen allegedly used the vehicle to reach the airbase which they attacked over the weekend, with six militants and seven Indian soldiers killed in a days-long operation.
Singh said the terrorists abducted him along with his friend Rajesh Verma, who’s a Gurdaspur-based jeweller, as well as his cook Madan Gopal at Kohlian village in Pathankot district.
The officer said the kidnappers left him at Gulpur Simbli village after about 45 minutes of travel while they later slit the jeweller’s throat before dumping him and the cook near another village. Verma is receiving care at a hospital.
Singh said the gunmen learnt his identity only when a constable called up on his cellphone which they had snatched.
Police sources said the district’s top officers reached the police station where Singh was waiting and the exercise of corroborating what he was saying began almost immediately.
“Based on his information, a massive manhunt was launched for his car. Police stations were informed and even nakas laid for checking of moving vehicles,” added an officer.
While the search for the vehicle began, Singh was questioned about the details of his statement. What was the SP, who had been transferred and was to take up his duties in Jalandhar, doing in Gurdaspur and that too in the middle of the night on a road so close to the Pakistan border?
Also, why was the SP moving without any weapon and gunmen despite the fact that the area had seen a terrorist attack barely five months ago?
In his defence, Singh told HT he was without his gunmen and his own weapon as he was going to a shrine on New Year’s Eve and he routinely visits such religious places.
Controversy swirled when intelligence officials in Punjab police were informed that the SP’s mobile phone was with the terrorists.
“By 7am, we had information that his phone had indeed been used to make calls to Pakistan,” added a senior officer. “A little later the vehicle was also located outside the air force station. All agencies which needed to know this information were given the details.”
Though Punjab police has assessed that the SP’s account is true, he has been questioned by central agencies and is likely to be examined again.