Hunt for Gunmen Continues at Air Base Pathankot
A shootout between Indian security forces and armed gunmen stretched into its third day on Monday at the Pathankot air force base in Punjab, near India’s border with Pakistan. At least eleven Indian personnel and at least five terrorists have been killed in the fighting so far, officials said.
At least one or two terrorists were still holding out against the security forces on Monday, said Rajiv Mehrishi, India’s home secretary, in a televised news conference in New Delhi.
“We are sure that still there are at least two more terrorists as firing has come from two different places,” Mr. Mehrishi said.
The gunmen have also wounded eight air force personnel and 12 members of the National Security Guard, he said.
Mr. Mehrishi said that four suspected militants wearing Indian Army uniforms were said to have hijacked a vehicle belonging to a Punjab police officer in Gurdaspur District, near Pathankot, on Thursday night. Hours later, the police officer and other passengers were ejected from the car.
On Friday, the area was put on alert, Mr. Mehrishi said, and gunmen infiltrated the air force base and began firing at 3:30 a.m. on Saturday.
“The terrorists were located by means of aerial surveillance, which had been mounted by air force overnight, and they were immediately engaged,” Mr. Mehrishi said. He said that the attackers were prevented from gaining access to what was believed to be their intended target, the area of the base where aircraft and other military equipment are kept.
No group has yet claimed responsibility for the attack.
Among those killed was a lieutenant colonel of the National Security Guard, India’s elite commando force. The officer died in an explosion when he was checking the body of a terrorist, Mr. Mehrishi said. One air force commando was also killed, as well as five armed guards working for the Indian Air Force.
Attacks on security forces and military bases are unusual in Punjab. Such assaults are more common in the border state of Jammu and Kashmir to Punjab’s north, which has a long-running insurgency. India has long accused Pakistan of supporting militants in the region, a claim that Pakistan denies.
The attack on the base follows an impromptu visit by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Pakistan on Dec. 25 to visit Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, the first such visit in almost 12 years. The meeting was seen as a step toward the resumption of a stalled dialogue between the countries.
In July, gunmen in Indian Army uniforms fired on a civilian bus and then took over a police station in Gurdaspur.
At the news conference on Sunday, Mr. Mehrishi said that Indian intelligence had received reports “of infiltration of terrorists from both Jaish-e-Mohammad and Lashkar-e-Taiba from Pakistan,” and that 40 people suspected of being terrorists from those two groups had been killed from August to December.
First Published in NYT