Gunmen attack Indian air base

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(London Post)    A small group of heavily armed attackers has opened fire inside Pathankot air force base in Punjab, close to the Pakistani border. The suspected Islamist militants wore army uniforms, a security official said.

At least four of the attackers and two soldiers were killed during the shootout at the military compound early Saturday, sources in the Indian defense ministry said.

The authorities were searching the area for any remaining shooters.

“Two of the attackers were killed in the initial exchange of gunfire, but we can’t confirm if more have been killed,” senior police official H S Dhillon told the AFP news agency, following reports that four gunmen had been killed.

“Five to six security personnel were injured, and they have been evacuated to hospital,” he added.

The attackers failed to penetrate the area hosting assault helicopters and jet fighters.

The security forces also prevented the shooters from causing major damage, an unnamed security official from the scene told AFP.

“They are heavily armed and the attack is aimed to cause maximum damage to the equipment at the station, but we have been successful so far,” he said.

The authorities suspect the gunmen were members of a Pakistani terror group, according to the official.

“We believe they are Jaish-e-Mohammed terrorists,” he said, adding that assailants were wearing Indian army uniforms.

Echoes of July attack

The Pathankot air force base is near the highway which links the restive Jammu and Kashmir states with the rest of the country. It is also very near to India’s regional rival Pakistan.

In the past, India has accused Pakistan of providing covering fire for Pakistani attackers hitting targets in the Indian part of Kashmir.

In July, three suspected Pakistani militants fired on a bus and attacked a police station in Punjab, killing seven people, including four policemen. The attackers were wearing army uniforms.

India blamed the Pakistan-based group Lashkar-e-Taiba for organizing that attack.

‘Saboteurs won’t win’

Some observers see the latest attack as an attempt to undermine dialogue between the two nuclear powers.

Last week, the India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a surprise visit to his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif, in a push to defuse the tension between the neighbors.

“The moment that Modi touched down in Lahore (and probably even before), something like this was doomed to happen,” said Michael Kugelman, a South Asia expert at the Wilson Center think tank in Washington.

“At this point, there’s sufficient goodwill in India-Pakistan relations to weather this attack. Saboteurs won’t win this one,” he said.

The foreign secretaries of both countries are due to meet in Islamabad later this month.

dj/bk (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)

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