Kohlian, Punjab: Bhagwal, a tiny village in a remote part of Punjab's border with Pakistan, has a place now on a crucial trail of terror being followed by investigators. It is here, on the night of December 31, that the terrorists who would unleash a fierce and deadly attack on a major air force base claimed their first victim.
Ikagar Singh, a taxi driver, was stopped at night shortly after 9 pm on the road by armed men. The 35-year-old fought back as they tried to hijack his car. The terrorists, believed to be from Pakistan and armed with AK-47s, slit his throat and abandoned his body on the road. They were not able to get very far in his taxi because at least one of its tyres had burst.
"My brother, a civilian, fought terrorists alone," said Mr Singh's brother, a soldier named Satnam Singh, to NDTV, strongly countering reports that the cab driver received a phone call from Pakistan to make his car available, with some locals alluding to a possible link to the flourishing cross-border drug trade in this part of Punjab. "He is being vilified, while a cop who did nothing is being praised," Havaldar Satnam Singh said.
He was referring to Police Superintendent Salwinder Singh, whose car was taken next by the terrorists. The police officer was headed home in a Mahindra XUV with a blue beacon after visiting a shrine with his cook and a jeweler friend. When the SUV was flagged down, Mr Singh's car pulled over. "We thought it was a police barricade. Four-five people barged into our vehicle and carjacked my SUV. They put off the lights," Mr Singh told NDTV today.
"They threatened to shoot us. We were blindfolded, gagged and tied," the police officer said. The terrorists then took two cellphones from him, unaware that he had hidden a third, and abandoned the cook and the cop. They took the jeweler, Rajesh Verma, with them, slashed his throat, then flung him on the road. He has survived his injuries.
The colleague that the police officer called after managing to free himself treated the case as that of an armed robbery, a costly and huge mistake preceding the January 2 assault on the Pathankot air base that martyred seven security personnel and injured 20.
No alert was sounded for several hours, by when the terrorists had entered the air force base, most likely in two separate groups according to investigators.