By Jaideep Sarin
Dinanagar (Punjab), July 27 (IANS) Three civilians and four security personnel, including a superintendent of police, were killed early Monday when three heavily-armed terrorists said to be from Pakistan went on a killing spree here, shattering two decades of calm in Punjab and sparking an 11-hour gun battle that left all three attackers dead.
It took several hours for Punjab Police commandos to eliminate the terrorists who, in military fatigues, stormed a police station complex in Dinanagar town in Gurdaspur district, once a hotbed of militancy and adjoining Pakistan, taking security forces by surprise.
Dinanagar is located barely 15 km from the Pakistan border.
Punjab Director General of Police Sumedh Singh Saini told the media: “We (Punjab Police) engaged them and killed all three terrorists. We lost four security personnel. The terrorists were well armed with good firearms and good ammunition and were carrying GPS sets.”
Asked if there was a Pakistani hand in the mayhem, he said: “It is too early to say from where they have come.”
Home Minister Rajnath Singh said: “If we are hit, we will give a befitting reply. We want peace with Pakistan but not at the cost of national honour.”
This was the first major terror attack in Punjab after the assassination of then chief minister Beant Singh on August 31, 1995 in Chandigarh, joint capital of Punjab and Haryana.
The bloody saga began at 5.30 a.m. and ended by 4.30 p.m. when the police took back the entire police complex, which included the police station and residential quarters which were quickly emptied once the attack started.
The final assault by the SWAT (Special Weapons and Tactics) team of Punjab Police on the complex ended with intermittent firing and grenade attacks from both sides.
A Home Guard jawan survived the 11-hour ordeal and ran out of one of the complex when the operation ended.
When journalists and police personnel finally entered the residential quarters, they were pock-marked with bullets fired from automatic weapons and light machine guns.
In an emotional outburst, locals raised slogans hailing the Punjab Police.
Superintendent of Police Baljit Singh succumbed to injuries suffered in the gun battle between security forces and terrorists who were holed up in the complex, officials said.
The dead included three civilians, one of whom was shot dead in a bus stand and two others who were killed in a hospital near the police complex. Three Home Guards in the complex were also killed.
Police officials admitted the complex was a soft target.
“We were hit by a burst of gunfire. I was hit on the shoulder,” said a police sub-inspector in the morning as he was taken to a hospital. “They are firing indiscriminately every five minutes.”
The clearly well-planned attack took the small town of Dinanagar by surprise. Gurdaspur district borders Pakistan on one side and Jammu and Kashmir on the other.
In New Delhi, Prime Minister Narendra Modi soon went into a huddle with senior ministers.
The terrorists first hijacked a passing car on the outskirts of Dinanagar after shooting its driver.
They then drove into the town, shot dead a man near the bus stand and then fired at a Punjab Roadways bus packed with passengers.
But its driver, Nanak Chand, did not panic and instead scared the terrorists by driving towards them. As the gunmen moved back, the driver swerved the bus and drove it away.
The gunmen then stormed the police complex.
As panic gripped Dinanagar, police and troops from a nearby army unit quickly surrounded the complex. But police officials said that it was the Punjab Police which battled the terrorists.
The army’s Special Forces and the National Security Guard provided the second ring of security. Television crews were told not to provide live footage of the fighting.
That the terror attack was multi-pronged was evident from the recovery of five bombs on the Amritsar-Pathankot rail track. The discovery took place minutes before a passenger train was to cross the section.