Army soldiers take up position on the perimeter of an airforce base in Pathankot on January 4, 2016. (Agence France-Presse)
On the third day of the grueling mission to secure the Pathankot air force base
that was attacked by at least five terrorists, a conglomerate of terror groups called the United Jihad Council has claimed responsibility for the attack according to CNS, a news agency based in Srinagar.
The UJC is based in Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir and is headed by Syed Salauddin, an Indian Kashmiri who chiefs the Hizbul Mujahideen.
However, Indian intel sources warn that the claim could be an attempt to deflect attention from the real perpetrators of the attack, believed to be the Jaish-e-Mohammed, a terror group based in Pakistan that says it's committed to securing Kashmir's independence. A senior police officer, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said to NDTV, " The statement may well be an attempt to indigenize the attack to highlight the Kashmir issue."
A spokesman for the UJC was quoted by news agency CNS as saying that the attack was carried out by "Kashmiri militants associated with 'Highway Squad'."Seven military personnel were martyred
at Pathankot in Punjab at the huge base that's located just 25 km from the border with Pakistan. Another 20 were injured. Five terrorists have been killed.
The attack began at dawn on Saturday when the terrorists, who reportedly crossed the border into India on the night of December 30, started firing indiscriminately. They allegedly entered the base in two groups - the first hijacked the vehicle of a senior police officer and used the car to enter the base, which holds fighter jets and attack helicopters.
The attack came about a week after a surprise visit by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif, the first by an Indian premier in 12 years.
Officials said the attack bore the hallmarks of previous suspected assaults by Pakistan-based terror groups, underscoring the fragility of recent efforts to revive talks between the neighbours.
Air assets at the base, including aircraft and helicopters, are secure, and there has been no collateral damage or civilian casualties, officers stressed.