As investigators rummage through leads and trails of the audacious Pathankot attack, Pawan Sharma and Aseem Bassi look at the mysterious and missing pieces of the terror plot that was hatched in Pakistan and continues to puzzle security agencies.
Groups of terrorists: Two or one
Security agencies have almost concluded that the terrorists were in two separate groups. Yet, what is baffling is the mystery as to how the two terrorists travelled and sneaked inside the air force base in view of available evidence - based on the first person account of Rajesh Verma, who survived a slit throat, and SP Salwinder Singh that they were waylaid by only four ultras.
The four in one group theory has been settled by the versions of the police officer and his cook.
But, security sleuths don’t rule out the possibility that two ultras could still be on the loose. The combination of two in the first group and four in the second group is baffling security experts. How the group of four ultras reached Pathankot is clear from killing of taxi driver Ikagar Singh and the carjack of the SP. There is not a shred of evidence so far to indicate how the first group of two travelled up to Pathankot and who helped them.
Both the terror groups entered airbase together
There is no clarity whether the six terrorists sneaked inside the air force facility together or in two separate groups. Mystery also surrounds the question whether both the terror groups were in touch with each other.
Security officials say both the groups had one wireless set each to establish contact. One set of the walkie-talkie was recovered from the abandoned vehicle of the abducted Punjab police officer who was mysteriously let off. Another similar set of walkie-talkie was found from the killed ultras by the army.
Sources say the terrorists entered the airbase after climbing the rear boundary wall of the facility that has barbed wire. It is learnt that one grove –ostensibly that of ultra--was found entangled with the barbed wire.
“It is likely that they took the back wall to enter the base. More than this, where did the remaining two terrorists came from needs to be cracked. But nothing can be said at this time,” a source said.
Why was the SP let off?
That’s another mysterious thread of this puzzle. The SP, police officers say, was let off by the terrorists due to his religion, while the cook because of his age. After dumping the SP and his cook with their hands tied behind their back the ultras realised later that the person they had let off was a police officer after they received a call on the SP’s phone and the caller said it belonged to “SP sahib”. Then they went back to search him. But the SP and his cook had fled. The amazing statement of the SP to his interrogators that he was let-off by the ultras “as they did not want to harm him due to his religion” has bounced more questions than answers.
Where did they cross the international border?
How the terrorists made an entry into the country’s frontline defence establishment is in the realm of speculation. Even as the BSF has been maintaining that the terrorists did not infiltrate from Bamial sector, traces of mud inside the abandoned taxi of the killed driver Ikagar Singh point to the fact that they used the riverine route. Which path they used to reach this side of the border is going to leave many red-faced.
Reports are doing the rounds that the terrorists used the Bamial sector to reach the air force base. It is also not known if the ultras had any local support. Though, the defence minister had said that the terrorists were heavily armed, highly motivated and on a suicide mission, the question that is bothering everybody is whether they had local support as they moved through villages and later to the air base.
How terrorists carried back-breaking load of ammunition?
Another question that is baffling security agencies is how did the terrorists manage to carry so much ammunition and weapons with them. Whether they used porters? According to the version that Verma, the SP’s friend, gave, the backpacks that the ultras were carrying were very heavy. So far there is no clarity whether there was any local support.