Home minister Rajnath Singh told Parliament on Wednesday that a forensic report confirmed six attackers struck Punjab’s Pathankot airbase in January, putting to rest a months-long dispute over the number of perpetrators.
While the National Security Guard (NSG) that was part of the counter-terror operation said it killed six gunmen, bodies of just four were found, triggering the controversy with ministers and security officials weighing in.
“I want to inform the House that some charred remains were found (in the barracks at the airbase). A forensic report has come about them, which makes it clear that those who were hiding in the building were terrorists,” said Singh while replying to a debate in the Lok Sabha on the deadly strike that killed seven soldiers.
Home ministry sources said scientists at the forensic laboratory in Chandigarh could not extract any DNA from the remains found at the military quarters.
“The burnt mass belongs to human male. It was not possible to establish the identity of the burnt male remains,” Singh quoted the report saying.
Doubts over the number of attackers had lingered as, apart from the four bodies, just four assault rifles belonging to the perpetrators were recovered from the site.
Before Rajnath Singh, defence minister Manohar Parrikar said in the Lok Sabha that security forces engaged in flushing out the attackers were shot at and targeted with grenades from the inside.
Security forces killed four of the gunmen on January 2, hours after the operation began. A second encounter took place with “at least two more terrorists” on the ground floor of a two-storey building known as the airmen’s barracks.
Airmen were evacuated from the upper floor of the structure, which was razed during the combat. Charred remains were discovered at two locations, but no body parts. The residue was sent for forensic tests.
Parrikar maintained that the army was in charge of the operation, rejecting reports of a tussle for control with the NSG and air force.
The government also said that a Rs 6.35-crore bill sent by the Centre to the Punjab government was for the deployment of central forces and was not linked to the Pathankot operation.
Minister of state for home Kiren Rijiju’s clarification came after Congress leader Jyotiraditya Scindia attacked the government over the move.