Jaish-e-Mohammed suspected in assault on Indian airbase

Five terrorists thought to be members of Jaish-e-Mohammed were killed by Indian commandos during an assault at an airbase in Punjab province earlier today. The jihadists were said to have been in contact with their handlers inside Pakistan during the assault.

The suicide assault team, wearing military uniforms, attacked the Pathankot Air Force Base – close to the border with Pakistan – at 3:30 a.m., DNA India reported. The attackers first penetrated the outer security cordon and reached a dining facility on the base, but were stopped there by Indian security personnel, led by commandos from the National Security Guard, according to the Hindustan Times.

Fighting lasted for more than four hours before Indian forces killed the five attackers. Three Indian security personnel were killed during the fighting.

The jihadists are thought to have been attempting to destroy military aircraft, including Mi-21 attack helicopters and MiG-25 fighters. Security personnel found a “huge quantity of RDX in their [the terrorists’] possession” according to DNA India. RDX is a military-grade explosive that has been used in terrorist plots in India and elsewhere in the past.

According to Indian news reports, the assault on the airbase is believed to have been executed by Jaish-e-Mohammed, a Pakistan-based jihadist group with close ties to al Qaeda. An Indian man abducted by the suicide assault team and “left for dead” after having his throat slit, said the jihadists attacked the airbase to avenge the death of Afzal Guru, a Jaish-e-Mohammed operative who was executed for his involvement in the Dec.2001 assault on India’s Parliament in New Delhi, the Hindustan Times reported. That assault was executed by Jaish-e-Mohammed and Lashkar-e-Taiba, another Pakistan-based terrorist group supported by Paksitan’s military and intelligence services.

Intelligence services intercepted cell phone calls from from the attackers “to their handlers in Pakistan,” the Hindustan Times reported. One of the attackers called his mother in Pakistan’s Punjab province and “to seek her blessings” for carrying out the suicide mission, according to India Today.

Pakistan-based jihadist groups have communicated with their handlers inside Pakistan during operations in previous attacks. In the most notorious case, members of the Lashkar-e-Taiba suicide assault team that attacked Mumbai in November 2008 received instructions and advice on how to select hostages for execution. The handlers were heard cheering as the jihadists carried out executions.

Jaish-e-Mohammed has participated in multiple terror attacks in India and has provided crucial aid to al Qaeda. Some of its top leaders have integrated with the global terror movement. Elements of Jaish-e-Mohammed have joined al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent, or AQIS, the newest regional branch of the global jihadist group which was formed by al Qaeda emir Ayman al Zawahiri in Sept. 2014.

Military facilities in India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan have been frequently targeted by jihadist groups based in the region. In one Sept. 2014 attack, AQIS attempted to take over a Pakistani warship and fire missiles at nearby American warships with the help of Pakistani naval personnel.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

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7 Comments

  • Vperera says:

    Please edit last sentence, *Pakistani Naval personnel*. A casual reader would be confusingly misled.

  • Tony Valachi says:

    CORRECTION: In one Sept. 2014 attack, AQIS attempted to take over a Pakistani warship and fire missiles at nearby American warships with the help of Indian naval personnel.

    Are you sure it was “WITH THE HELP OF INDIAN NAVY PERSONNEL”? I read it was Pakistani Navy personnel as at least of the suicide attacker was Pakistani Navy personnel.

    Anyhow, it is my personal feeling that the purpose of this attack was not to avenge the hanging of Afzal Guru but to derail India’s nuclear program or dissuade other countries from supplying nuclear fuel to India by creating an impression that India is as unsafe as Pakistan. Recent intelligence reports and busting of a spy ring indicates that Pakistan has been desperately seeking information about sensitive installations including the ones related to nuclear stuff e.g. Project Varsha in Vishakhapatnam. In May this year reports claimed Pakistan sent at least two spies to gather information about this project.

    • Arjuna says:

      You are certainly partly right. It was to avenge the hanging, at least in the minds of the JeM attackers. They even wrote so in Urdu in their own blood on the wall of the room where they were killed.
      The ISI’s motivations, however, are more complex. Derail peace talks, harm Indian interests in any way possible, and increase instability in the enemy country to strengthen themselves within the domestic PakMil pecking order. Some analysts have UJC (the latest to take credit, a parent of LeM by some accounts) reporting to Pak MI, not ISI. Only question in my mind is which Pakistani general gave the order to LeM to go, and which Pakistani majors or colonels were the so-called “handlers” on the phone with the attackers. After the evidence is gathered and analysed, India should demand they be arrested and handed over for trial.

  • Birbal Dhar says:

    The last sentence should be with the help of Pakistani naval personnel rather than Indian.

  • Arjuna says:

    The fun never ends. And this was Indian security with a 24 hr warning and their commandos pre-positioned on the defense. Still haven’t caught the last critter. Thanks ISI! What do you think would have happened if your boys got those MiGs? Not sure you want to find out.
    [Eds. nits “Paksitan’s military” and I think you flipped the chopper/fighter designation numbers.]

  • Arjuna says:

    Pardon the nitpicking in an otherwise excellent report, Bill, but I think you meant Pakistani naval personnel in that last sentence, not Indian.
    Choppers were Mi 35s apparently not the older Mi 25s. This was a serious attack, mop-up still ongoing. Thanks ISI!

  • Arjuna says:

    So now United Jihad Council is taking credit. You can’t get any closer to the ISI than them. It just boggles the mind that they (ISI) would think they can get away with an attack like this after being caught out directing Mumbai 2008. They must be really scared of their gravy train being cut off by the peace process and not at all scared of Modi or Sharif.

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