Terrorists attacked an Army camp in Rajouri district on Thursday killing four soldiers, and the two attackers were gunned down in the shootout after the pre-dawn suicide strike that marked the return of the fidayeen to Jammu and Kashmir after more than three years.
Both the terrorists, who are believed to be from the Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), were heavily armed with deadly 'steel core' bullets and were shot down after an over four-hour gun battle which started at 2 am and ended just before 6.30 am, the police said. The attack came four days ahead of India's 75th Independence Day next Monday.
Director General of Police Dilbag Singh told PTI that the two fidayeen (suicide attackers), believed to be from the banned JeM, attempted to sneak into the camp but were neutralised. He said, "Four army men were also martyred in the gunfight."
Giving details, defence spokesman at Jammu Lt Col Devender Anand said alert sentries of the Army post at Parghal in Rajouri district in the Jammu region, about 185 km from Jammu city, detected suspicious persons approaching their post taking advantage of the inclement weather and dense foliage.
He said the sentries challenged the two terrorists, who then lobbed grenades while attempting to gain entry inside the post. However, alert troops cordoned off the area and engaged them in a gunfight, he added.
Anand said in the ensuing exchange of fire, the two terrorists were neutralised.
Six soldiers of the Army were injured in the operation and of them, three succumbed to injuries while repulsing the suicide attack, he added, while one more succumbed to his injuries later.
The slain Army personnel were identified as subedar Rajendra Prasad (of Maligoven village in Rajasthan's Jhunjhunu district), rifleman Lakshmanan D (of T Pudupatti village in Madurai district of Tamil Nadu) and rifleman Manoj Kumar (of Shahjahanpur village in Haryana's Faridabad) and rifleman Nishant Malik, Anand said.
"The Indian Army salutes the bravehearts for their supreme sacrifice in the line of duty, upholding the highest tradition of the force. The nation will always remain indebted to them for their supreme sacrifice and devotion to duty," he added.
According to eyewitnesses, the first gunshot was heard around 2 am when the terrorists attempted to breach the external fence of the army camp.
The attack marks the return of fidayeen to the Union territory of J and K after more than three years. The last such strike took place on February 14, 2019, at Lethpora in Pulwama district of south Kashmir, in which 40 CRPF personnel were killed.
There was an intelligence input about the presence of terrorists from the JeM in the region and police and other security agencies were carrying out operations in various parts of the district, the police said.
Security forces and the police had been put on alert following intelligence inputs on suspected movement of terrorists in the Rajouri belt, prompting them to launch a combing operation in Darhal and Nowshera belt on Wednesday.
"Terrorists came close to 7-feet high fencing wall of the 11 Raj Rifles camp and hurled a grenade on a sentry post," senior superintendent of police (Rajouri) Mohammad Aslam said. In the grenade blast, one sentry personnel died on the spot, he said.
He said the police had inputs about the movement of terrorists and a cordon and search operation was going on since yesterday. There were also inputs regarding such movements in Thanamandi, Kandi Bhudal and border areas too.
Asked whether the pattern of terrorists to engineer a fidayeen attack was similar to the Uri strike, Aslam said fidayeen are meant to cause major casualties. In 2016, 4 JeM terrorists attacked a brigade headquarters of the Army near the Line of Control (LoC) in Uri killing 19 soldiers.
"They wanted to do it here too. But troops bravely fought and neutralised and did not allow them to reach the barracks. They were neutralised before reaching these places."
Aslam said the intruders appear to be foreign terrorists but investigations will give further leads.
"After investigations, we can also say whether the attack was carried out by a recently infiltrated group of terrorists."
"We cannot rule out the presence of other terrorists in Rajouri. We are exercising alertness. Cordon and search operations are going on in the areas," he said.
JeM terrorists had earlier unsuccessfully attempted to carry out a fidayeen attack on April 22 in Jammu when Prime Minister Narendra Modi was scheduled to be in town. However, the two terrorists were killed in a chance encounter with the CISF near the Sunjawan Army camp. An officer of the paramilitary force was also killed.
An Army spokesperson tweeted that Army chief General Manoj Pande and all ranks "salute the supreme sacrifice" of three soldiers who laid down their lives in the line of duty in Rajouri and offer deepest condolences to the bereaved families.
On May 8, a terrorist was killed as the Army foiled an infiltration bid along the LoC in the Laam area of Rajouri district. There were several blasts in Rajouri district in April and May.
The police had busted two modules of the LeT instrumental in carrying out terror acts and ferrying drone-dropped weapons from Pakistan to the Kashmir valley and arrested five members of two terror modules.