An intelligence input on December 30, 2015, from the Punjab border warned New Delhi that six terrorists, with the intention to strike at critical military installations, had infiltrated the country. But as the intelligence input was being deciphered, two of the terrorists had already entered the Indian Air Force (IAF) base at Pathankot, said police sources.
Investigations into the January 2, 2016, terror attack on the base revealed two of the six terrorists — all killed in a multi-agency response — had entered the premises at least two days before the terror attack began.
Sources in the ministry of home affairs (MHA) said the NIA is probing the role of an insider who not only helped the terrorists by cutting a portion of the fence covering the air base, but also supplied ammunition to the two terrorists who entered first.
The two terrorists did not move and hid in the thickly forested area at the air base, and waited for the four other operatives to enter, said police sources. On January 2, 2016, when the four terrorists climbed the wall and entered the base, an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) of the IAF had picked up their entry into the base on its thermal imager.
The UAV was operational because the air base was on high alert after receiving the intelligence input.
The visuals from the UAV were one of the key pieces of input that the National Security Guards (NSG) received, which helped them pin down the four terrorists away from the technical and operational area of the air base, said police sources.
None of the forces involved in the counter-terrorist response knew about the two other terrorists, who were hiding. This was one of the reasons why the Union home minister had declared the operation a success after the NSG gunned down four terrorists. It was only after the four terrorists were killed that the other two began attacking, sources said.
The terrorists were carrying a corrosive powder in their rucksacks. If the terrorists had thrown this into the hangars or the stationed aircraft and ignited it, authorities would have found it difficult to control the fire, said police sources. Investigations also pointed to the arrested airmen KK Ranjith, Sunil Kumar Bhatti, who had given out specific technical and minute operational details, including the number of hangars, operational aircrafts and helicopters. Ranjith had given out the details to a woman named Damini McNaught, who gave him Rs30,000 for the information, said police sources.