NEW DELHI: A junior home minister said in the Lok Sabha on Tuesday that only four terrorists had taken part in the Pathankot airbase attack, contradicting Home Minister Rajnath Singh and Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar statements that six ultras were involved in the terror strike, prompting government officials to issue a clarification saying the number was still six.
“Four Pakistan-based terrorists entered Punjab via Janial Road, Dhusi turn, near Ravi river bridge, Gulpur Simli village and attacked the air force station in Pathankot,” Minister of State Hansraj Ahir said in his written reply to a question from Congress MP Ravneet Singh.
Soon after the mismatch was pointed out, officials of the Ministry of Home Affairs scrambled to correct the “mistake”, which they blamed on “bureaucratic goof-up”. “The official figure of terrorists involved in the attack is still six and it was nothing but a drafting mistake. We have pulled up the official who drafted the written reply and it was unintended. We will request the Speaker tomorrow to rectify the mistake,” said a senior official at North Block, which houses the ministry. However, another ministry official had a different take. “It shows the government is yet to resolve the row over the number of attackers killed in Pathankot. This is bound to happen when security agencies are still not sure about the exact number of attackers,” the official said.
According to the National Investigation Agency, while the bodies of four were found, the remains of the other two weren’t. Sources in the National Security Guards, which led the counter-terror operation following the attack, had maintained that two terrorists were “neutralised” by firing from the cannon of a BMP II-armoured personnel carrier into an airmen’s billet. But their clothes, weapons or even remains couldn’t be traced.
The apparent gaffe came a day after the NIA got the home ministry’s go-ahead to prosecute Jaish-e-Mohammad chief Masood Azhar, the alleged mastermind of the Pathankot attack that killed six soldiers, and three other Pakistani nationals. In March Rajnath said the number of terrorists killed in Pathankot was six, a figure that was corroborated by Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar.