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.