‘Pathankot squad was more lethal than 26/11 attackers’

The modus operandi adopted by the terrorists speaks volumes about the precision training they received, says an Intelligence official.

Updated - November 27, 2021 06:53 pm IST

Published - January 05, 2016 02:01 am IST - New Delhi

After initially refraining from blaming the country, a top government official said on Monday that the terrorists behind the Pathankot airbase attack appeared to have received training from a “professional armed force in Pakistan.” The fidayeen (suicide) squad was more lethal and better trained than the 26/11 Mumbai attackers. They had enough arms and ammunition, including under barrel grenade launchers, for a sustained operation of >more than 60 hours against a professional army.

An Intelligence official told The Hindu that establishing the identity of the terrorists would be a challenge because >Pakistan would certainly not own them up . Security forces inside the air base have found bodies of five terrorists. A sixth one was blown to pieces when the building he had taken refuge in was brought down with explosives on Monday. DNA samples would be preserved, he said.

A challenge After the 26/11 Mumbai attacks, Pakistan had refused to accept the bodies of nine Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) terrorists killed by the security forces. The tenth terrorist, Ajmal Kasab, the only one to have been captured alive, was hanged in a Pune prison in 2013 and his body was buried on the premises.

“We are yet to ascertain the identity of the terrorists as no recoveries have been made. No terrorist group has so far claimed responsibility. The statement by the United Jihad Council (UJC) is only an attempt to give it a Kashmir colour,” said the Intelligence official.

The UJC, an alliance of more than a dozen pro-Pakistan militant groups based in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, had claimed responsibility for the air base attack. “The attack is a message by Mujahideen [militants] that no sensitive installation of India is out of our reach,” UJC spokesman Syed Sadaqat Hussain said in a statement.

Two groups

Security agencies believe there were six terrorists and they were divided into two groups — one of 4 and the other with 2 members.

The modus operandi adopted by the terrorists speaks volumes about the precision training they have received, said the official. “They opened fire at a patrol team at 3.30 a.m., an unusual hour to engage with the enemy. They were clearly aware that the level of alertness would be low at that hour. They did not all come out together, but took on the security forces from different directions.

It is suspected that two terrorists might have entered the Pathankot air base before the Superintendent of Punjab Police Salwinder Singh, his jeweller friend Rajesh Verma and cook Madan Gopal were abducted by the other four, and much before an alert was sounded about their presence in the area.

Mr. Verma, who survived a slit throat, told his interrogators that he heard the four terrorists who hijacked their vehicle talking to their handlers, presumably in Pakistan.

The handler apparently ticked them off, asking why they had not been able to enter the air base when two other terrorists had already reached the target. The four explained that they were on their way. They had not been able to reach the base because there were several police pickets on the way.

It is possible that the four terrorists entered the Pathankot air base in the morning of January 1, much before an alarm was sounded to secure all vital installations, the official said.

NIA registers cases There are strong indications that the terrorists were assisted by a drugs racket operating along the border and the heavy arms and ammunition they used could have been dispatched from Pakistan before they themselves crossed the border. Security agencies suspect the terrorists crossed the border in Punjab through a “controlled operation” executed by a gang involved in the smuggling of narcotics, fake Indian currency and arms.

Meanwhile, the National Investigation Agency (NIA) registered cases for waging war against India and inciting riots on Monday, under various sections of the Indian Penal Code, Unlawful Activities Prevention Act and Arms Act, against unknown persons, official sources said.

January 1 (Friday)

Early morning (around 3 am): SP Salwinder Singh and his cook Madan Gopal alert local police about terrorists who abducted them

Their claims were not given credence for hours; crucial time was lost.

Afternoon: Centre issues alert about terrorists; by now more or less certain their location was Pathankot.

NSA convenes meeting with senior officials; NSG dispatched to Pathankot

Why no detailed combing of the region done , despite several military, BSF and Punjab police units available close by?

January 2 (Saturday)

Early morning (3.30 am): Terrorists spotted; Centre claims they were contained in forested area

Evening: Four terrorists killed; Home Minister claims operations over

Who briefed Home Minister , and why was haste shown in declaring operation a success?

January 3 (Sunday)

Morning (10 am): NSG's Lt Col Niranjan killed, five others injured while inspecting a terrorist's body

12.20 pm: Firing starts from two different locations, security forces realise more terrorists are alive

Why was no protocol in place to avoid such casualties?

Why was there no careful combing and clearing of the area?

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