Indian forces secure airbase after attack by gunmen

Indian security officers searching for gunmen who infiltrated an air force base in Pathankot yesterday. The operation to secure the base ended 14 hours after the militants, said to be from the Pakistan-based Jaish-e- Mohammed group, began the attack.
Indian security officers searching for gunmen who infiltrated an air force base in Pathankot yesterday. The operation to secure the base ended 14 hours after the militants, said to be from the Pakistan-based Jaish-e- Mohammed group, began the attack.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Strike by suspected Pakistani militants threatens to derail bilateral talks

PATHANKOT (India) • The Indian authorities have regained control of an air force base in northern Punjab state after a 14-hour battle with suspected Islamist militants.

The gunmen, wearing army uniforms, hijacked a police car in the early hours of yesterday morning and entered the heavily guarded base, before opening fire.

"The operation is just over. All four terrorists are dead," Deputy Inspector General of Police for Pathankot region Kunwar Vijay Partap Singh told Agence France-Presse yesterday evening.

Mr Singh did not confirm reports that up to three Indian security personnel had been killed during the operation.

The attackers, suspected to be from the Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammed group, struck at Pathankot airbase at around 3.30am local time (6am Singapore time). "They are from Jaish, Jaish has claimed responsibility," Indian army Lieutenant-General Satish Dua told reporters in televised remarks.

The Pathankot airbase houses dozens of fighter jets and is important for its strategic location about 50km from the Pakistan border.

The attack followed terror alerts around the world in the past three days that included Munich train station evacuations on New Year's Eve, and events in other European cities being cancelled or scaled down because of security concerns.

The heightened global security concern followed terror strikes in Paris in mid-November and in California early last month.

In India yesterday, the terrorists made their way into the military facility with the aid of a hijacked police officer's car - tactics used in earlier attacks believed to have been perpetrated by Pakistani-trained militants, Punjab's police chief Suresh Arora told Reuters. Once inside, they opened fire indiscriminately.

Indian commandos later combed buildings in the airbase to flush out the attackers.

The attack comes a week after Prime Minister Narendra Modi paid a surprise visit to Pakistan, the first by an Indian premier in 11 years, and threatens to derail talks between the nuclear-armed rivals, which have fought three wars since independence in 1947.

"We want peace but if terrorists carry out attacks on Indian soil, we will give them a befitting reply," Indian Home Minister Rajnath Singh said in televised remarks.

A protest broke out on the road leading to the Pathankot base in the early afternoon yesterday as angry residents burned effigies apparently intended to resemble Pakistani militants.

Pakistan moved to condemn the attack, describing it as a "terrorist incident".

"Building on the goodwill created during the recent high-level contacts between the two countries, Pakistan remains committed to partner with India... to completely eradicate the menace of terrorism afflicting our region," Islamabad's Foreign Ministry spokesman said.

The Jaish-e-Mohammed group, which is banned in Pakistan, fights against Indian rule in the divided Himalayan region of Kashmir, where a separatist conflict has claimed up to 100,000 lives.

Mr Modi's Dec 25 visit to Lahore to meet his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif indicated a potential thaw in tensions between the historical foes, and the foreign secretaries of both countries are to meet in Islamabad this month.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on January 03, 2016, with the headline 'Indian forces secure airbase after attack by gunmen'. Print Edition | Subscribe