02 January 2016 08:21:48 IST

Terror attack on air force base in Punjab; 4 terrorists, 2 IAF men killed

Attack comes just a week after PM’s visit to Lahore

Suspected Jaish-e-Mohammed terrorists from Pakistan on January 2 attacked an air force base here, killing two air personnel, while four terrorists were killed in an operation that lasted more than five hours, an attack that comes just a week after Prime Minister Narendra Modi made an unscheduled visit to Lahore.

The air base is located near the border with Pakistan.

“The gunbattle between terrorists and security forces ended after more than five hours,” Punjab Police ADGP (Law and Order) H S Dhillon.

“However, the area was not sanitised yet and the combing operation continues,” he said.

At least four to five militants, believed to be from the Jaish-e-Mohammed terrorist group, in army uniform launched the attack at 3.30 a.m. with an aim of destroying the air base, a top security official said.

Security forces are on the look-out for a possible fifth terrorist so that no collateral damage is done, police said.

The terrorists, with huge quantity of RDX in their possession, made their way to the base from the back side where there is a jungle, they said.

Authorities said helicopters and other equipment at the air base are safe. The technical area of the air force station is safe, police said, adding the entire area has been cordoned off.

Pathankot SSP R K Bakshi said four suspected militants were killed in the battle.Two jawans were also martyred and six sustained injuries.

The attack was launched soon after a combing operation was carried out by the army yesterday in the area between air base installation and Chakki river, police said.

The attackers were met with strong resistance from the security personnel, who were already alert on the possibility of an attack, top sources said in Delhi, adding that the terrorists, therefore, could not enter the air base and managed to reach only to the langer area on the outside.

Sources said that a co-ordinated counter operation supervised by NSA Ajit Doval was launched to neutralise the terrorists.

Security establishment was already on alert and was anticipating an attack after an SP of Punjab Police was abducted by a group of men in army uniform on Thursday night.

Yesterday, a series of meetings were held by NSA with army chief and top IB officers in this regard. Subsequently the army was put on alert and NSG commandos were rushed to Pathankot overnight.

The attackers were confined to a non-operational area, police said.

Helicopters, NSG commandos and SWAT teams had been engaged to counter the militants, police said.

The strike was believed to be launched by Jaish-e-Mohammad militants, officials said, adding that the target was to destroy military installations.

This is one of the most successful counter terror operations as the terrorists were prevented from causing any major casualties, security officials said.

The attack comes just a week after Prime Minister Modi made an unscheduled visit to Pakistan and met Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

It is the second big terror attack in Punjab within less than a year as last year three militants stormed a police station in Dina Nagar before being eliminated after a 12-hour gun battle.

In view of the attack, Punjab had been put on maximum alert while security measures were also tightened in neighbouring Haryana and common capital of the two states — Chandigarh, official sources said.

Security was also tightened on the Pathankot-Jammu National Highway.

As the news of the terror attack spread, it triggered panic among the local residents.

“I was sleeping when a neighbour rushed to my home early this morning and informed me about the attack.I could not believe that terrorists had struck for the second time as the area had seen an attack recently,” said Gursharan Singh, a resident of Pathankot.

Based on the developments involving the SP, Army had sounded alert and accordingly had placed two columns and an Special Forces team in Pathankot Air Force station prior to the attack, defence sources said.

NSG team has also teamed up to foil the terrorists’ plans.

UAVs of Army and IAF had been put into action to get inputs, the defence sources added.

The attack was launched soon after a combing operation was carried out by the army on January 1 in the area between Aar base installation and Chakki river, police said.

Defence sources said the terrorists did not manage to enter the technical area of the base, which houses all the offices and is the base for MiG-21 fighter planes.

Security establishment was already on alert, apprehending an attack after an SP of Punjab police was abducted by a group of armed men in army uniform on Thursday night. The attackers thrashed the officer before dumping him from vehicle. They slit the throat of the SP’s friend Rajesh.

After the incident, the combing operation was launched in the border areas of Pathankot and Gurdaspur district.

The Army had last night itself rushed two columns (about 50 men) to the base besides special forces.

Today’s operation was coordinated by an Army Brigadier and the main assault team was the NSG, which was backed by the special forces. Additional two columns of the army were also deployed to strengthen the cordon, defence sources said.

Helicopters and UAVs were also deployed during the operation, they said.