October 2001 News

Fidayeen attack on airforce base foiled

22 October 2001
The Times of India

NEW DELHI: In the first-ever fidayeen attack on a forward airbase, a four- member militant suicide squad tried to storm the IAF Awantipora airfield, around 30 km from Srinagar, on Monday afternoon. In all, six persons were killed and two injured in the heavy exchange of firing.''Four of those killed have been confirmed as militants. We are not sure about the identity of a fifth person who was also killed in the incident. From our side, a non-combatant enrolled guard, Prakash, was killed, while two more were injured,'' said Western Air Command chief, Air Marshal Vinod Bhatia.Home ministry sources, in turn, said apart from the militants and the BSF guard, the sixth person to be killed was a civilian truck driver. While two of the militants were from Pakistan, the other two were from Kupwara district of Kashmir.The 40-minute gun-battle began at about 1.30 pm when the militants, armed with AK-47s and hand-grenades, tried to penetrate the airbase''s main gate in a silver grey Santro car (JK-1E-1109).On being challenged, the militants began to fire indiscriminately on the security personnel manning the gate. ''Our guards immediately retaliated, killing all the occupants in the car,'' said Bhatia. But by then, one guard had been killed. The two guards who were injured have been airlifted to the Badamai Bagh military hospital.''It appears to be a fidayeen attack...this is the first time the main gate of an IAF airfield has been attacked or threatened. One of the militants killed was carrying a chit, which identified him as Abu Omar Raina of Narowal village in Mallaha area of POK,'' said the Air Marshal.Bhatia said, ''We are totally prepared to ensure all our high-value assets like aircraft are fully protected. We were able to thwart this attempt because of the high state of vigil we maintain.''There was no damage to the airbase, which is one of the two IAF fighter bases in the Valley, during Monday''s incident. The other airfield is, of course, Srinagar, which also operates civilian flights.It may be recalled that in January this year, a suicide squad of Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba had made an abortive attempt to storm the heavily- guarded Srinagar airport. Six Lashkar militants and two civilians were killed, while 11 policemen were injured in the incident.The senior IAF officer said precautions had also been taken to deal with ''stand-off attacks'', which basically are attacks from a distance with long-range weapons, against the airbases.''We have perimeter defences in our airbases. In addition, we carry out regular patrols inside and outside the perimeter to sanitise the area,'' said Bhatia.


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