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Pathankot attack: Terrorists may have entered air base before alert was sounded about them

Two terrorists of the suspected group of six might have entered Pathankot air base before a Punjab Police SP was kidnapped by them.

Pathankot attack: Terrorists may have entered air base before alert was sounded about them

New Delhi: Two terrorists of the suspected group of six might have entered Pathankot air base before a Punjab Police SP was kidnapped by them and much before an alert was sounded about their presence in the area.

There is "high probability" that at least two terrorists have entered the Indian Air Force base before Punjab Police SP Salwinder Singh, his jeweller friend Rajesh Verma and Singh's cook was kidnapped along with an SUV on December 31, official sources said.

Verma, whose throat was slit but survived, told his interrogators that he had heard the four terrorists, who boarded the vehicle after hijacking it, talking to their handlers, believed to be in Pakistan.

The handler apparently ticked off the four terrorists saying why they could not enter the air base as two other terrorists have already reached the target.

The four terrorists told their handlers that they were on their way but could not reach the base as there were several police pickets on the way.

There is also possibility of these four terrorists entered the Pathankot air base in the morning of January 1, much before an alarm was sounded in the area to secure all vital installations later in the evening of that day, sources said.

The hijacked vehicle was also found near the air base.

Crucial hours were lost in verifying the Punjab Police SP's claims that he was kidnapped along with two others by the terrorists.

Sources said that police officers whom the SP had informed about the terrorists initially did not take him seriously due to his "dubious past", thus leading to some crucial hours being lost.

Sources said that immediately after the alarm was sounded, security at all vital installations, including the Pathankot air base in Punjab, was enhanced to the highest level to make it difficult for the terrorists to mount an attack.

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

The top security brass of the government knew by January one that Pathankot air base would be the target of the terrorists, who were still at large and steps were taken immediately.

First priority for the government was to secure the assets parked in the technical area and NSG team, about 160 commandos, was dispatched and they were deployed along with other special forces to guard the assets in the inner periphery. 

NSG, which took command of the operation being the anti-terror force, also ensured the security of outer periphery.

The four in the first group were killed on Saturday while the two members of the second group were fighting till today. The sources said that the final count of terrorists involved in the attack would be clear following the completion of the operation, the final stages of which saw the building from which fire was being directed being blown up.

There is possibility of one the two last terrorists blown into pieces due to explosion carried out by the forces.

Sources also said the level of training of the Pathankot terrorists seems even better than that of the Mumbai 26/11 attackers.

It is clear from the tactics that these terrorists have employed that a professional army had trained them, they said. The terrorists used all the tactics of professional fighters like conserving firepower, attacking at 3 AM when the level of alertness is at its lowest and going quiet to give the impression that all the attackers had died.

All these tactics are of military precision, the sources said. The terrorists switched off all their phones since January 2. At least four phones with Indian SIMs, snatched from the SP's vehicle, were with the terrorists.

With the driver of the Toyota Innova vehicle, Ikadar Singh, having been picked up by the terrorists from a spot near Gulpur-Samboli, 5 km away from the International Border, it is being suspected that they crossed the border near that area. The terrorists had later killed the driver.

Security agencies strongly believe that the attack was carried out by Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammad and the modus operandi of the terrorists was adopted by the group only.

Besides, there have been regular inputs, came from interception of telephone, that JeM was planning attacks in India.

The calls were intercepted past two months.

Border Security Force, which guards the Indo-Pakistan border has been alerted about a fortnight ago and asked to enhance security to check possible infiltration.

Referring to the seven casualties of the security forces, sources said it was quite impossible to avoid casualty in a 'Fidayeen' attacks.

Such operations take time as the terrorists were armed with well equipped arms, including AK-47 improvised as mortar, they said.

Sources also dismissed the suggestion that operation halted after the killing of four terrorists on Saturday and blamed some communication goof for such an impression in the media.

The National Investigation Agency, which will probe the Pathankot attack, will also probe the killing of the driver and the kidnapping of the SP.