Investigators have raised serious doubts about the number of terrorists involved in last month’s deadly attack on Punjab’s Pathankot air force station.
The National Security Guard (NSG) which led the counter-terror operation maintains it killed six militants.
“After neutralising four terrorists, the second ‘encounter’ with ‘two more terrorists’ took place on the ground floor of a two-storey building at the airbase. Since the building was demolished, we could find only ashes which may have pieces of flesh from the bodies of the dead terrorists.
The ashes have been sent for forensic analysis to look for human DNA,” said a senior home ministry official requesting anonymity.
“But the question is why not even a single shred of cloth worn by the terrorists was found in the ashes? When the bodies of terrorists would have fallen, at least the pieces of clothes on the underside should have survived. During the mopping up operation, shreds of heavy bedclothes were found, but there were no fragments of garments like the military dresses that the other four terrorists were wearing.”
Investigators are now waiting for the results of the forensic analysis that may finally set the issue to rest.
The National Investigation Agency (NIA) which is probing the case is planning to re-evaluate the evidence gathered so far to take into account the possibility that only four attackers may have been involved.
“NIA chief Sharad Kumar may visit the Pathankot airbase next week again to have fresh look at the evidence gathered in the case by his investigators,” the official added.
Sharad Kumar could not be reached for comments.
On January 3, Union home secretary Rajiv Mehrishi and Air Marshal Anil Khosla had said that two additional terrorists were holed up at the air force station apart from the four terrorists who had been killed a day earlier.
Three prime witnesses in the case – Punjab police officer Salwinder Singh and his companions, jeweller Rajesh Verma and cook Madan Gopal – have told the NIA that four gunmen overpowered them around New Year’s Eve. The gunmen snatched Singh’s vehicle to reach the airbase.
Other indicators too point towards the possibility that there were just four attackers.
Investigators so far have recovered only four assault rifles and three pistols from the bodies of four terrorists who were killed in the first 24 hours of the encounter that began late in the night on January 1.
“So, where are the rifles or pistols from which the two other terrorists were shooting? The second encounter went on for another 30 hours. No weapon was recovered from the second encounter site,” said an investigator who spoke on condition of anonymity. “We need to find answers to all these questions.”