Pathankot: In a major security breach, terrorists entered a frontline Indian Air Force (IAF) base near this town in northern Punjab early Saturday and engaged the security forces in a fierce gunfight. At least five terrorists were killed by commandos following the attack, police said.
Police sources said that at least three IAF security personnel were killed and four others were injured in the terror attack that started around 3:30 a.m.
Though the firing stopped around 8 a.m. after the four terrorists were neutralised, sounds of firing and grenade explosions were heard again around 11:30 a.m., making it clear that security agencies were still engaged in a gun battle with one or two more terrorists who could still be hiding inside.
The MIG-21 Bison fighter jets, helicopters, missiles and other critical assets of the IAF at the base were secure and the terrorists were not allowed to get near the technical area where these were stationed, IAF sources said.
In New Delhi, Home Minister Rajnath Singh said: “Any terrorist attack on us from Pakistan, and we will give it a befitting reply.”
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal condemned the attack, while the Congress said incidents of terrorism are on a rise in Punjab.
“Why has Punjab suddenly become the hotbed of terror activities in the last few months? The State has been calm for the the last 20 years,” Congress spokesperson Randeep Surjewala asked.
National Security Guards (NSG) commandos, who had been rushed in here on Friday evening following apprehension of an attack, IAF’s Garuda commandos and army commandos led the counter-attack on Saturday against the terrorists who are suspected to have crossed into India from Pakistan through the border area, 30 km from here.
Punjab Police and its elite SWAT commando units provided the outer cordon to the counter operations to ensure that no terrorist is able to escape.
Intelligence officials said that the terrorists involved in the fidayeen attack could be from Pakistan-based terror outfit Jaish-e-Muhammed (JeM).
Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar, who is in Goa, was monitoring the situation and was in touch with Air Force Chief Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha and other officers, as per the ministry sources, adding Parrikar will reach New Delhi soon.
National Security Adviser (NSA) Ajit Doval was also monitoring the terror attack from New Delhi, sources said.
The IAF base is around 250 km from Chandigarh.
The terrorists, who were in army fatigues, were reported to be around four to six.
Punjab Police Additional Director General of Police (ADGP) Hardeep Singh Dhillon said that the counter attack was in progress.
“Though firing is over but the complete area is not sanitised. There is always possibility of one terrorist hiding and waiting in a different area. Keeping that in mind operations continue till complete area is sanitised,” an army official said.
Two IAF helicopter gunships and UAVs could be seen assisting security forces in combing operations.
The security forces repulsed a major attack by the terrorists who had planned to damage the frontier air force base where fighter squadrons were stationed.
“The terrorists were contained in one area of the air force station. They could not reach near the technical area of the air force station where IAF aircraft and other assets are located,” a Punjab Police official stationed near the IAF station told IANS.
There were intelligence reports that terrorists could attack defence installations in the region around the New Year.
The Pathankot-Jammu highway was put on high alert. The entire area near the IAF station was sealed.
Security forces were put on high alert in Pathankot in Punjab’s frontier district Gurdaspur on Friday after a senior police official said he and his associates were kidnapped by five armed men in army fatigues but released later.
Terrorists from Pakistan had launched a terror attack on Dinanagar town in Punjab’s Gurdaspur district on July 27, 2015, leaving seven people dead, including a senior police official.