Pakistan-based terror group Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) might have been behind the attack at the Air Force station in Jammu, which was triggered by drones — in a first such incident of its kind in the country.
Early Sunday, two bombs were dropped at the IAF base, injuring two Indian Air Force personnel. The explosions took place at around 1.40 am within six minutes of each other.
The first blast ripped through the roof of a single-storey building at the high security technical area of the airport manned by the IAF in Satwari area on the outskirts of the city. The second one was on the ground, officials said.
Sources told CNN-News18 that the JeM might have been behind the attack, adding that the organisation might also have received support from another entity as the attack “could not happen without the active involvement of the Pakistani Army, or ISI”.
It is also suspected that RDX was used in the blasts, another source said. Samples have been sent for further lab tests, and about 1.5 kg explosive was used in each of the improvised explosive devices (IED), they added.
Even while officials were investigating the drone attack, another major strike was averted when a person, suspected to be affiliated to another Pakistan-based terror outfit, Lashker-e-Taiba, was arrested along with an IED weighing around 6 kg, said Jammu and Kashmir DGP Dilbag Singh.
Singh also termed the airport blasts a terror attack. The police and other agencies, including the National Investigation Agency (NIA), are working with IAF officials to unravel the plan behind the attack. The NIA is likely to take over the probe.
Police have registered an FIR under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. Relevant sections of the Explosive Substances Act, and the Indian Penal Code (IPC) have also been added to the FIR filed at Satwari police station on the application of a junior warrant officer of the IAF, officials said.
An official said the FIR was registered under UAPA sections 13/16/18/23 of the (unlawful activities/terrorist act/conspiracy/enhanced penalties), and IPC section 120-B (criminal conspiracy). Sections 3 and 4 of the Explosive Substances Act (causing explosion likely to endanger life or property/attempt to cause explosion, or for making or keeping explosive with intent to endanger life or property) have been included.
Sources from the NIA told CNN-News18 that the initial investigation into the blasts has suggested that the drones came from across the border.
No debris found, drone likely returned to the handler
It was not immediately clear from where the drones had taken off and investigations were on to ascertain their flight path, officials said.
Investigators scanned the CCTV footage, including from cameras installed on the boundary walls of the airport, in an effort to determine from where the drones came. However, all the CCTV cameras focused on the roadside, officials said.
One to two kg IED was dropped from the drone/quadcopter. As no meaningful debris was found after the attack, the drone may have likely returned to the handler.
Drones cannot be detected by radars deployed at border areas to monitor enemy activity, officials said, suggesting that a different radar system that can detect drones as small as a bird be installed.
It is not yet clear if the drone was controlled through a handler using radio-frequency or was GPS-programmed to drop the payload at a given coordinate. The drone may have come from Pakistan - 14 km away - or from a quiet or abandoned area nearby.
Some guards said they heard a whirring engine noise, but no one saw the drone. Aerial distance from the Jammu airport to the international border is 14 km.
Defence Minister Rajnath Singh’s office said he spoke to Vice Air Chief, Air Marshal HS Arora, over the airport incident.
In a Twitter post, the IAF said two “low-intensity explosions" were reported early Sunday morning in the technical area of Jammu air force station.
“One caused minor damage to the roof of a building while the other exploded in an open area. There was no damage to any equipment. Investigation is in progress along with civil agencies," it said.
Jammu airport is a civil airport with the runway and the ATC (air traffic control) under the IAF.
Police Foils IED Attack Attempt
On the IED that was recovered after the airport blasts, officials said that the accused arrested belongs to Banihal area in Jammu region and was tasked with planting the IED in a crowded place before getting enrolled in a terror group.
“The suspect has been detained and is being interrogated. More suspects are likely to be picked up in this foiled IED blast attempt," DGP Singh said.
Officials said three more people have been rounded up for questioning.