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Quick Response Team was waiting for the terrorists

Last updated on: January 02, 2016 22:25 IST

Map of PunjabAdvance warning prevented damage at IAF base.

The terrorists, who attacked the Indian Air Force's Pathankot air base, entered the airbase at about 3:30 am on Saturday, January 2, through a gap in the perimeter wall.

The Pathankot air base is one of the largest of IAF bases, spread over about 2,000 acres.

"Because of prior intelligence inputs, a Quick Reaction Team was stationed there which made the first contact with the terrorists within 45 metres into the base," sources said.

While one terrorist was killed on the spot, the rest scattered. The second terrorist was killed around 10 am while the third and fourth terrorist were killed early in the evening.

The five Pakistani terrorists are believed to have sneaked into India on the night of December 30-31 from a spot near Bamiyal village in Pathankot, located close to the International Border.

The terrorists, official sources said, crossed over near Shakargarh in Pakistan to Bamiyal village and later changed into army fatigues before kidnapping Salwinder Singh, a superintendent of police, who was in charge of the 75th battalion of the Punjab Armed Police at Kolian village.

Singh's vehicle was hijacked by the terrorist who slit the throats of Singh's jeweller friend Rajesh Verma and driver. Singh was released later. The jeweller is undergoing treatment in hospital.

Singh's vehicle was abandoned at Tajpur village, 2 km from the IAF's Pathankot airbase. One of the terrorists used Verma's phone to call Bahwalpur in Pakistan which was intercepted by the intelligence agencies.

The area where the terrorists crossed over to India has a thick foliage of elephant grass. A tributary of the Beas river enters Pakistan from this village and the route is notorious for drug smugglers to enter India.

Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar chaired a high-level meeting on Saturday evening during which he was briefed in detail by National Security Advisor Ajit Doval on the terror attack at the IAF base in Pathankot.

The meeting was attended by all the three Service chiefs and the defence secretary.

The meeting lasted for about 90 minutes during which Parrikar was given a detailed overview about the intelligence received and the action taken by the security forces to thwart the attack by the group of terrorists, suspected to be belonging to the Jaish-e-Mohammed outfit.

It was an attack that was anticipated by the security establishment and local shopkeepers had been cautioned about it well in advance.

Residents in Dhaki Chowk in Pathankot woke up to the sound of gunfire and blasts in the dead of the night when terrorists struck at the IAF base.

"We were asked by the police to close down our establishments after abduction of an SP (=on Thursday night) and recovery of his vehicle from near the Palta Sahib Gurdwara (Friday)," said Rahul, who runs an invertor shop.

Rahul, along with other shopkeepers, shut their shops following the terror alert amid deployment of security personnel in the area around 6 pm and rush home.

The suspected Jaish-e-Mohammed attack at the Indian Air Force base in Pathankot killed six defence personnel, including an IAF Garud commando.

More terrorists are suspected to be in hiding, defence sources said, but there is no confirmation about their exact number.

The IAF pressed into service two attack helicopters and drones to pinpoint the exact location of these terrorists.

Four terrorists were earlier killed in the gunbattle at the IAF base, the attack coming a week after Prime Minister Narendra Modi made an unscheduled visit to Lahore on Christmas.

"The gunbattle between the terrorists and the security forces ended after more than five hours," Punjab Additional Director General of Police H S Dhillon said.

Four to five terrorists, suspected from the Jaish-e-Mohammed terrorist group, in army uniforms, launched the attack at 3:30 am on Saturday with the aim of destroying the air base, a top security official said.

IMAGE: A helicopter involved in the security operation flies over the IAF's Pathankot Air Force Station. Photograph: ANI Photo

The terrorists, with RDX in their possession, are suspected of having made their way from the jungle behind the IAF base.

The attack came soon after a combing operation was conducted by the army on Friday in the area between the air base and the Chakki river, the police said.

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

The IAF has MiG-21 fighter planes and Mi-25 attack helicopters stationed at its Pathankot base. All the aircraft and other equipment at the base are safe and secure.

IMAGE: Security deployed outside the Indian Air Force's Pathankot Air Force Station. Photograph: ANI Photo

Sources said a coordinated counter-terrorism operation, supervised by National Security Adviser Ajit Doval, was launched to neutralise the terrorists.

The security establishment had anticipated an attack after the Punjab superintendent of police was abducted by a group of men in army uniforms on Thursday night.

On Friday, Doval held meetings with army chief General Dalbir Singh and top Intelligence Bureau officers in this regard. Subsequently, the army was put on alert and National Security Guard commandos rushed to Pathankot overnight.

Rediff.com strategic affairs columnist and BharatShakti.in founder Nitin A Gokhale tweeted that 'Intercepted phone call frm SSP's snatched phone had given some inkling of attack. Pathankot AF Base was fortified by Army Spl Forces. The operations in Pathankot AF base are confined to peripheral areas. Technical areas have been under a security blanket since last night.'

'2/3 Army SF and 2 columns of regular infantry guarding the technical area. NSG commandos married up around midnight,' Gokhale added.

It is the second major terror attack in Punjab in five months. Three terrorists attacked a police station in Gurdaspur district in July.

The Indian Air Force said timely intelligence and prompt action foiled the likely plan of terrorists to destroy its valuable assets at the Pathankot airbase.

In a statement issued nearly 15 hours after terrorists stormed the airbase, the IAF said it had intelligence that such an attack would take place.

'Intelligence inputs had been available of a likely attempt by terrorists to infiltrate into the military installation in Pathankot area. In response, preparatory actions had been taken by the IAF to thwart any such attempt,' it said.

'Due to the effective preparation and coordinated efforts by all the security agencies a group of terrorists were detected by the aerial surveillance platforms as soon as they entered the Air Force Station at Pathankot,' the IAF added.

'The infiltrators were immediately engaged and contained within a limited area, thus preventing them from entering the Technical zone where high value assets are parked.'

'Through timely and prompt action by all agencies, the likely plan of the terrorists to destroy valuable assets of the Air Force has been foiled,' the IAF said.

IMAGE: Security deployed outside the IAF's Pathankot Air Force Station. Photograph: ANI Photo

Punjab has been put on alert while security measures have been tightened in neighbouring Haryana and Chandigarh. Security has also been tightened on the Pathankot-Jammu National Highway.

Security has been beefed up at the IAF stations in Chandigarh and Halwara in Punjab, at the air base in Ambala and Ambala Cantonment.

Vehicles crossing army and air force areas are being checked by police and army personnel. Security at railway stations in Punjab and Haryana has been increased.

A sacked IAF official, arrested for allegedly sharing secret information with Pakistan's ISI, will be interrogated in connection with the Pathankot terror attack, investigators told a Delhi court which extended his police custody till Monday, December 4.

Ranjith K K, a Leading Aircraftman with the Indian Air Force posted at Bhatinda, was dismissed and later arrested after a combined operation by the Delhi Police's Crime Branch, Military Intelligence and the Air Force Liaisoning Unit.

Booked under the Official Secrets Act, Ranjith allegedly shared secret information with intelligence operatives suspected to be backed by the ISI after being trapped in an espionage racket.

Investigating Officer S S Sandhu said some "revelations" were made by Ranjith and police suspect it could be a connection with the Pathankot attack.

The plice earlier said Ranjith was deceived by a cyberentity named Damini McNaught, who pretended to be an executive of a UK-based media firm and claimed she required IAF-related information for an article in a news magazine from Ranjith in exchange for monetary benefits.

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