Four heavily-armed terrorists, travelling in a truck to Kashmir after infiltrating from Pakistan, were killed in a “chance encounter” with security forces here on Wednesday, a police officer said, terming it a “major success” ahead of Republic Day.
The truck driver, however, escaped from the scene and efforts are on to nab him, Additional Director General of Police (ADGP), Jammu zone, Mukesh Singh said.
He said the gunfight took place around 7.30 am amid dense fog near Tawi Bridge in the Sidhra bypass area along the Jammu-Srinagar National Highway.
“Bodies of four terrorists have been recovered from the truck. Seven AK assault rifles, one M4 rifle, three pistols and a large quantity of ammunition were also seized from their possession,” Singh, flanked by General Officer Commanding of Army’s Tiger Division, Maj Gen Gaurav Gautam, told reporters at the scene of the gunfight.
He said the interception of the terrorists was the result of “high alert” of security agencies following the recent recovery of arms from a truck in Narwal bypass area of Jammu.
“All the material recovered from the possession of the (slain) terrorists is being scrutinised and analysed. We are not aware of the group… whether they came from across the border or not, is a matter of investigation. The only thing we can tell right now is that the truck was going from Jammu towards Srinagar side,” the ADGP said.
Referring to the arrest of three operatives of proscribed Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) terror outfit and recovery of a huge quantity of arms and ammunition from an oil tanker in Narwal bypass in November, he said the incident had put the security agencies on high alert.
“The Army, police and the CRPF, all of us together were on high alert (following the recovery) in the run up to the January 26 celebrations. The border grid has also been strengthened, and (security) camps have been made more secure. This is how we have been able to neutralise them,” Singh asserted.
Asked if the group was sent by Pakistan-based JeM commander Ashiq Nengroo whose house built on encroached government land was demolished in Pulwama district recently, he said, “We are not aware of any connection of this group with Nengroo so far.” “The group affiliation and identity of the deceased terrorists is awaited,” he said.
Responding to another question about any intelligence input suggesting attempts by terrorists to infiltrate into this side by taking advantage of foggy weather conditions, the officer said there was no specific input about the crossings from the Pakistan side.
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He said it was a joint operation by the Army and police after suspicious movement of the truck was noted. “The vehicle was followed and stopped near Sidhra check point, but its driver escaped on the pretext of attending the call of nature.” Getting suspicious, Singh said police started searching the truck, but came under heavy fire from the terrorists hiding inside, triggering the gunfight.
Maj Gen Gautam said a clear picture would emerge after the next couple of hours and “we will be able to share more details”.
“Nothing can be said accurately about the plans of the terrorists. It can be a possibility and we have to remain alert to meet any challenge,” the Army officer said on increased terrorist activities with focus on Jammu region.
Earlier, talking to PTI, Director General of Police (DGP) Dilbag Singh said so far three terrorists have been killed. “The number could be more,” he added.
Asked whether the terrorists came from across the border and were picked by the truck driver to ferry them to Kashmir, he said it is a matter of investigation.
Officials said the intense firing between the two sides lasted for over 45 minutes during which several explosions apparently caused by hurling of grenades were heard.
Preliminary investigation suggested that the group might have infiltrated from across the border, they said, adding that the recovery of the M4 rifle is indicative that some top terrorist commander, most probably of JeM, was also among those killed in the gunfight.
Smoke was seen blowing from the truck, loaded with husk, and was completely damaged in the gunfight.
Several fire tenders and an earth mover were pressed into service to douse the flames and search the truck, which was kept under constant drone surveillance.
Meanwhile, traffic on the Sidhra bypass road was restored after remaining closed for over over six hours. Officials added that forensic experts also visited the scene and collected samples for analysis.