Are two Pathankot terrorists just phantoms?

Heavily armed terrorists infiltrated one of India’s frontline airbases on January 2-3 night and carried out a daring attack.

Updated - December 04, 2021 11:01 pm IST

Published - August 01, 2016 01:28 am IST - NEW DELHI:

Days before Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh travels to Pakistan to attend the SAARC Home Ministers’ conference, the debate over how many terrorists attacked the Indian Air Force’s Pathankot airbase in January seems to have got reignited.

This is because investigators have accounted for only four backpacks the terrorists were carrying with them, possibly containing arms and ammunition, besides dry fruits and other material, .

Two backpacks of the same mark and colour were recovered in fairly good condition, and traces of the same set of backpacks were found from the airmen’s billet blown up by National Security Guard (NSG) commandos during the operation.

NIA’s stand

A top National Investigation Agency (NIA) official said four backpacks indicated that only four terrorists attacked the airbase and not six as claimed by the NSG and the government.

Besides the discrepancy in the number of backpacks, video footage taken by an unmanned aerial vehicle has recorded the movement of only four terrorists near the periphery wall of the airbase, each carrying one backpack.

“Only two backpacks have been recovered and there were traces of two more in the billet. Where are the other two? We also have video footage which shows four terrorists moving with four backpacks,” the NIA official said.

Phone intercepts

A senior Home Ministry official said they had telephone intercepts of a Pakistani handler mocking at Indian security agencies for the confusion over the number of terrorists. The call was intercepted on January 3, hours after Union Home Secretary Rajiv Mehrishi told the media that the NSG had informed them about the possibility of two more terrorists at the airbase.

In the call, the handler is heard saying: “Ein kaafiron ko yehi nahin pata ki chaar the ya cheh [These infidels still don’t know whether they were four or six].”

Heavily armed terrorists infiltrated one of India’s frontline airbases on January 2-3 night and carried out a daring attack.

While two of the attackers were killed near the mess the same night, two took refuge in a thicket a few metres away and were killed after engaging with security forces for about 13 hours.

The NSG later claimed two more terrorists hiding in the airmen’s billet fired at their commandos. In the ensuing stand-off, the NSG blew up the billet. But mysteriously, neither their bodies nor their weapons were recovered by the investigators.

During his visit to Pakistan, Mr. Singh is likely to discuss the progress of the investigation into the Pathankot attack with his Pakistani counterpart.

Mr. Singh had informed Parliament that six terrorists attacked the airbase and that a forensic report had made it clear that those inside the billet were terrorists.

He said their identities could not be established as the forensic laboratory could not extract DNA samples from the charred remains.

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