Six militants killed in Indian air base assault

Minister confirms deaths of six militants in connection with Indian air base assault, as operation to secure compound is still underway

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Indian security personnel stand guard inside the Indian Air Force (IAF) base at Pathankot in Punjab, India, January 4, 2016

Six militants who attacked an Indian air base have been confirmed killed, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar said on Tuesday, adding that a four-day-old operation to secure the compound was still underway.

"In this operation six terrorists have been neutralised. Two bodies which were recovered today are badly burnt. DNA test will be conducted for confirmation” Parrikar told reporters at the Pathankot Air Base in the northwestern state of Punjab, close to the border with Pakistan.

The bodies of the other four gunmen had been recovered on Sunday, while at least seven soldiers including a lieutenant-colonel were killed and 20 wounded in the assault.

Parrikar hinted that militants came from across the border.

"There are some indications from the goods that have been recovered that some of the materials are made in Pakistan. Let the NIA (National Investigation Agency) conduct investigation. We will come to know after investigation who sent them and who they were associated with. Once the operation is called off we will take a call on any other issue," he said.

The first gun battle on Saturday had went on for 15 hours after militants disguised as soldiers managed to enter the air base, as another two gunmen were discovered the day after.

An Indian security personnel stands guard on a building at the Indian Air Force (IAF) base at Pathankot in Punjab, India, January 5, 2016

On Monday, the United Jihad Council, an alliance of more than a dozen pro-Pakistan militant groups based in Pakistan-controlled Kashmir, claimed responsibility for the air base attack, in a statement issued to the media.

"The attack is a message by Mujahideen (militants) that no sensitive installation of India is out of our reach," said UJC spokesman Syed Sadaqat Hussain in a statement, which called on Delhi to grant self-determination to Kashmiri citizens.

The attack came just a week after Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi made an unscheduled visit to meet Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in Pakistan, to revive dialogue to end the insurgency in the region.  

Now the foreign secretaries of the nuclear-armed neighbours are due to meet for talks on Jan. 15, but an Indian government official said India could back from the talks, as a final decision will be taken once the operations to secure the Pathankot Air Force base in Punjab state are over.

Meanwhile, a police officer on Tuesday said he was first kidnapped and then freed by heavily armed men speaking Urdu - which is widely spoken in Pakistan - a day before the fatal attack.

"One of the gunmen snatched my phone and made calls to Pakistan," Police Superintendent Salwinder Singh told media.

Mobile phone tower records show the attackers made calls from Singh's phone from inside the air base by mid-afternoon on Jan. 1, Reuters cited the Indian Express. This was 12 hours before the government said it had detected them through aerial surveillance.

TRTWorld and agencies