Pathankot (Punjab): Is senior Punjab Police officer Salwinder Singh a suspect or a victim in the terrorist attack on the Pathankot air base?
Investigating agencies, especially the NIA, are probing the police officer's role in the incident for over 24 hours before the actual terror attack took place on Saturday.
The inconsistencies in the statements of Superintendent of Police Salwinder Singh, his cook Madan Gopal and his jeweller-friend Rajesh Verma, regarding the same incident have made investigators curious. This has led to the SP being put under the scanner. The National Investigation Agency (NIA) has been questioning all three since Tuesday evening.
One of the discrepancies in their statements is regarding the number of terrorists. While Verma, who travelled the most distance with the terrorists, said there were four terrorists, the police officer and his cook said they were 4-5 terrorists.
Another inconsistency was about the terrorists hitting them with rifle butts. While Verma and the cook had bodily injuries, the SP had none. Also, the SP claimed that he could not hear much of what the terrorists were talking among themselves. Verma said they talked to their "commander" and addressed each other as "alpha" and "major".
Investigators are baffled by the fact that the terrorists killed the Innova taxi driver, Ikagar Singh, by slitting his throat and stabbing him and also attempted to slit the throat of the SP's friend Verma, leaving him with injuries. Why did they spare the SP, who had not a scratch?
The police officer, Salwinder Singh, is claiming that he and two others were stopped in his Mahindra XUV and abducted by 4-5 heavily armed terrorists near Kolian village on Dec 31 night around 11.30.
He claimed that he and the cook were dumped in a drain in a forest area by the terrorists after some distance, unharmed, but with their hands, legs and mouths tied. He said that both his mobile phones were taken away by the terrorists.
The cook, Gopal, however, said that the police officer still had one phone with him with which he contacted his senior.
Th officer's friend Rajesh Verma has claimed that the terrorists threw him in the boot of the multi-utility vehicle and drove towards the Pathankot air force base.
The questions being raised by investigators are:
Why was the SP travelling late in the night in the border belt? Why did he take that particular link road on the fateful night when, by his own admission, there was another road link to the shrine, where he claimed he had gone to offer prayers, in Kathua district of adjoining Jammu and Kashmir? He even claimed that he did not know anything about this 'short-cut' road.
Why was he not carrying his gunmen in the vehicle with him? Why was he not carrying his official weapon with him?
Being a police officer, shouldn't he have resisted the terrorists even at the cost of his own life? If he and his companions had got into a scuffle with the terrorists and the terrorists had fired at them, their presence in the area would have been known more clearly.
Why didn't he or his friend take any action, like throwing the keys, to somehow stop the terrorists from taking away the vehicle?
According to Salwinder Singh's version, he untied himself and the cook after the terrorists dumped him and called up his superior officers around 3.30 a.m. to inform them about the terrorists.
However, he was not taken seriously. If his immediate seniors were not taking his version seriously, did he take any steps to inform top officers in Punjab Police?
His SUV was found later by the police, abandoned near Akalgarh village, not far from the Pathankot Air Force Station (AFS).
It was only after Punjab Police put the SP's mobiles on surveillance that it was known that calls were made to Pakistan from these. This alerted the senior officers about the situation and it was shared with the concerned authorities in New Delhi.
Punjab Director General of Police (DGP) Suresh Arora said that there was no delay on the part of the state police in acting on the SP's claims.
"It was for the first time that the NSG (National Security Guards) were deployed much before the attack. The alert was shared and arrangements were made," Arora claimed.
Seven security personnel were killed in the pre-dawn attack by terrorists on the air base on Saturday. Six terrorists were killed with the combat operation ending on Monday evening.
(Jaideep Sarin can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)