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Punjab’s Pathankot air base attacked: How it happened

Fresh gunfire erupted at an Indian Air Force base in Punjab near the border with Pakistan where four gunmen and three security men have been killed in a daylong attack on Saturday.

india Updated: Jan 02, 2016 21:09 IST
HT Correspondents
HT Correspondents
Hindustan Times
At least four gunmen suspected to be from the Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammed group infiltrated the Pathankot air base at around 3.30am.
At least four gunmen suspected to be from the Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammed group infiltrated the Pathankot air base at around 3.30am.(Sameer Sehgal/HT Photo)

Five terrorists, suspected to be from Pakistani, were killed in a gunfight that lasted nearly 15 hours after they breached a high-security security perimeter and entered a frontline Indian Air Force (IAF) base near Pathankot town in northern Punjab early on Saturday to carry out an attack, police said.

Here is what we know about the attack:

A pre-dawn attack

Gunshots rang out at the facility in Pathankot around 3.30am as the group of five men in army-style clothing -- believed to be operatives of the Jaish-e-Mohammed terrorist group -- launched the daring operation. The attack came less than 24 hours after an alarm was sounded in the state over the assault of a top police officer by suspected Pakistani terrorists.

‘Attackers from Jaish-e-Mohammed’

A defence source said the terrorists from JeM, blamed for the December 2001 attack on Parliament that killed 11 people, had probably infiltrated about three days ago.

The attackers, with huge quantity of RDX in their possession, made their way to the base from the rear area where there is a jungle.

Security forces were put on high alert on Friday after Gurdaspur superintendent of police (headquarters) Salwinder Singh said he and his associates were kidnapped by five armed men in army fatigues.

Read: 4 terrorists, 3 IAF men killed in Pathankot air force base attack

How security forces fought back

The terrorists, who struck just a week after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s unscheduled visit to Lahore, could not penetrate the defence cordon at the air base as they met with effective response from the security forces.

A team of 50 commandos of the National Security Guard (NSG) led the fight against the militants, a top security official said. The NSG commandos were flown to Pathankot on Friday night in view of a security threat after the abduction and thrashing of Singh by terrorists, who dodged security forces and escaped.

The NSG commandos were rushed to the air force base and the army cantonment at Mamoon after they arrived in Punjab, and a major search operation was launched. They were battle-ready when terrorists attacked the air force base.

The IAF used its two attack helicopters to assist the joint team of ground troops to neutralise the remaining terrorists.

Read: What makes Punjab’s Gurdaspur-Pathankot belt so vulnerable

The IAF facility

Pathankot — located at the tri-junction of Punjab, Jammu and Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh — has an army cantonment and the air force base, which is barely 10km from where Gurdaspur SP Singh was waylaid and assaulted.

The IAF facility is the base of MiG-21 fighter planes and Mi-25 attack helicopters of Air Force.

Punjab, again

In July, heavily armed men in army fatigues sprayed bullets on a moving bus and stormed Dinanagar police station in Gurdaspur district bordering Pakistan, killing six people and injuring eight.

The Punjab Police and security agencies were charged with a slow response during the Dinanagar terror attack.

The Pakistan angle

Saturday’s attack came close on the heels of an upswing in India-Pakistan ties after PM Modi made the surprise trip to Lahore last month and held talks with his Pakistani counterpart, Nawaz Sharif.

Even before the gunfire had died down at the Pathankot airbase, people across India had begun asking the inevitable question: Would this brazen terror attack neutralise the bonhomie and gains generated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s surprise visit to Lahore?

The question was not surprising, given the cycle that has accompanied almost every recent effort by Indian and Pakistani leaders to engage and move ahead with the fraught peace process – a grand gesture or a visit or some forward movement, and an outrageous terror attack meant to inflame and incite public opinion.

Several events that preceded the attack on the Indian Air Force base in Pathankot are definitely a cause for concern – the July attack, the ambush of a BSF convoy in Udhampur that resulted in the capture of a Pakistani member of the Lashkar-e-Taiba and evidence gathered by Indian intelligence agencies from the GPS devices used in both attacks.

“Pakistan is our neighbour and we want peace, but any terrorist attack on India will get a befitting response,” home minister Rajnath Singh said after the Pathankot attack.

With inputs from Harkirat Singh, Aseem Bassi, Vinay Dhingra and Rezaul H Laskar