Three heavily-armed fidayeen in army fatigues, believed to have come from Pakistan, today sprayed bullets on a moving bus and stormed a police station, killing eight persons, including an SP, while all the terrorists were gunned down in a day-long operation.
In the first major terror attack in the state in eight years, the terrorists, suspected to be members of either Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) or Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), launched a pre-dawn strike targeting a roadside eatery, passenger bus and later barged into the Dinapur police station.
The terrorists killed eight persons– three civilians, Superintendent of Police (Detective), Baljit Singh, a Punjab provincial service officer, two home guards and two policemen. The toll may go up as some of the 15 injured were in a serious condition.
All the three militants were killed in the exchange of fire with security forces at an abandoned building adjacent to the Dinanagar police station.
Though there was no official word on who the attackers were, but they are suspected to have sneaked into India from Pakistan through the unfenced border between Jammu and Pathankot or Chak Hira in Jammu district.
Earlier this year, terrorists belonging to JeM whose fidayeen combatants, clad in Army fatigues, stormed a police station in Jammu and Kashmir’s Kathua District on March 20 killing six persons, including three security force personnel.
“The operation is over,” a top Punjab police official said at the end of a fierce gunbattle involving Punjab police and commandos of the elite Special Weapons and Tactics Team (SWAT) that lasted nearly 12 hours.
Combing operations continued for some time after the multiple attacks in which 15 others were injured.
Weapons and a Global Positioning System (GPS) equipment were recovered from the building where the terrorists were holed up.
According to Punjab Police IG (Counter Intelligence) Gaurav Yadav, SP Baljit Singh succumbed to bullet injuries sustained in the gunbattle.
Police said out of those brought to civil hospital at Gurdaspur, seven seriously injured were referred to Amritsar. They were aged between 15-55 years.
Three militants were killed in the operation, Deputy Commissioner, Gurdaspur, Abhinav Trikha said.
“The terrorists were carrying sophisticated weapons. We have recovered ‘Made in China’ grenades from them. They were wearing combat fatigues,” Director General of Punjab Police, Sumedh Singh Saini told reporters here.
According to police, the attackers first targeted a roadside eatery and took off in a white Maruti 800 with Punjab registration number. They shot dead a roadside vendor near Dinanagar bypass.
They opened fire on passengers of a moving Punjab roadways bus before targeting a community health centre adjacent to Dinanagar police station.
The gunmen barged into the Dinanagar police station and opened indiscriminate fire. The militants also targeted another part of the complex where the families of police personnel reside and hurled grenades.
An alert has been sounded along the international border in Punjab and Jammu as the terrorists are suspected to have infiltrated from there, the sources said.
Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh spoke to Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal and National Security Advisor Ajit Doval about the situation. Later, he met top officials to review the security situation in the wake of the attack.
Singh said he will make a statement on the issue tomorrow in Parliament, where members today sought a detailed government response.
Dinanagar town, which is close to Pakistan, falls in Gurdaspur district. It is sandwiched between Gurdaspur town on one side and Pathankot on the other and lies about 260 km from capital Chandigarh.
On October 14, 2007, seven persons were killed and more than 30 were injured when a powerful explosion took place at the cinema hall in Ludhiana, the last major terror attack in the state which had grappled with Sikh militancy for several years from 1980s.
“The mission was successful. Difficulties are always there but with the help of our training, we successfully overcame them in handling the situation,” a SAWT officer said.
Security agencies have heightened vigil across the contry especially Punjab and neighbouring states as well the Union Territory of Chandigarh in the wake of the attack which came just three weeks ahead of Independence Day.
In a related development, five live bombs were found on Amritsar-Pathankot railway track and the train services on the route have been suspended.
Officials said schools, colleges and other institutions have been shut today in the town in view of the incident.
Local resident Kamaljeet Singh Matharu, who said that the assailants had snatched his car after firing at him, said they were dressed in army uniform and were heavily armed.
Matharu received gunshot injuries and is admitted to hospital.
Three of the dead were identified as Ghulam Rasool, Asha Rani and Amarjeet Singh.
Ishwar Chandra Sharma, IG, Border Zone, said the gunmen attacked a Punjab roadways bus and then entered the police station complex.
Minister of State for Home Kiren Rijiju said there is no hostage situation.
According to Civil hospital authorities at Gurdaspur, SP Baljit Singh was brought dead to the hospital.
Fear gripped the town this morning and people largely remained indoors.
“People are in a state of shock and terrified here after they came to know about the attack,” said Jatinder Kumar, whose house is just 500 metre away from the Dina Nagar police station.
“We could clearly listen to the sound of firing going on at police station between and security personnel and (suspected) militants,” Jatinder, who is an employee of Punjab Health department, said.
Strongly condemning the terror strike, Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal said that terrorism was a national problem.
“Terrorism is a national problem, it is not a state problem. It has to be tackled by national policies,” Badal said and demanded that the border be sealed.