Six people were killed at an air force base in India’s northern Punjab state in a terror attack that is being seen as an effort to derail recent peace efforts between India and Pakistan.
Officials said four gunmen and two security personnel were killed when gunmen dressed in army uniforms mounted an attack early Saturday at the air base in Pathankot town, about 50 kilometers from India’s border with Pakistan and about 430 kilometers north of New Delhi.
The attackers used an Indian police officer’s car, which was apparently hijacked the previous evening, to infiltrate the air force facility.
Several gunmen and security personnel were killed or injured in the gunbattle that raged for several hours.
Additional forces were rushed in, elite commandos searched the base, and helicopters made a reconnaissance of the town amid concern that some of the attackers may have escaped. Sporadic gunfire could be heard through the afternoon.
Security has been stepped up at defense bases and other areas in the country.
Although no group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, suspicions fell upon militant groups that operate from Pakistan, whom New Delhi blames for mounting terror attacks in India.
“Whoever is finally identified, it will be the same Pakistan-based terror formations and these have long experience of attacking military and police establishments,” said Ajay Sahni, the head of the Institute for Conflict Management in New Delhi.
Modi, Sharif meet
The latest attack comes just a week after Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a historic, unannounced visit to Pakistan to meet Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif — the first such visit by an Indian prime minister in more than a decade.
The visit was seen as an effort to revive a flagging peace process.
Home Minister Rajnath Singh reiterated that India wants peace with its neighbor, Pakistan.
But Singh warned that if there is any kind of terror attack on India, it will give a “befitting response.”
Analysts and officials say peace moves by the political leadership of the two countries in the past have often been followed by an escalation in terror strikes.
Nalin Kohli, a spokesman for the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, suggested India will persevere with peace efforts.
“Every time there is a movement toward normalization of relationship with Pakistan, these things automatically happen, because these are forces that don’t want peace between India and Pakistan and also in the region,” Kohli said. “However, as far as India is concerned, we are constantly going to do our best to deal with that situation and ensure that these forces are defeated.”
It is the second terror strike in Punjab in the past six months – in July, gunmen stormed a police station close to the border town of Gurdaspur, killing at least seven people, including police officers. India blamed that attack on militants who had infiltrated from Pakistan.
Punjab, along with the disputed region of Kashmir, shares a border with Pakistan.