Chandigarh/Pathankot, Jan 2: Nearly 24 hours after terrorists abducted a senior police officer, security agencies in Punjab failed to trace them in the same area till they launched a terror attack on the Pathankot Indian Air Force (IAF) base early on Saturday.
Defence installations elsewhere in Punjab were put on high alert on Saturday following intelligence reports that up to 15 terrorists could have infiltrated into India from Pakistan side on December 30-31.
Besides the IAF base in Pathankot, which was attacked by suspected Pakistani terrorists, Punjab has frontline IAF bases in Adampur (near Jalandhar), Halwara (near Ludhiana) and Bathinda and substantial army presence at various places, including Jalandhar (11 Corps), Pathankot, Amritsar, Bathinda (10 Corps) and Patiala (1st Armoured Division).
The free run that the four terrorists had for nearly 24 hours even after the abduction of Superintendent of Police Salwinder Singh on Thursday night and were able to reach and attack the IAF base, has exposed the security breach despite the high alert in the area.
The armed terrorists, who the abducted SP had told the police were in army fatigues, were able to move around in the area, probably on foot.
"The search and combing operations seemed to be casual as the terrorists could not be traced even in 24 hours. They must have moved around in rural areas and habitation near the air force station and somebody must have seen them. They could not have appeared at the IAF base gate from thin air," a former top Punjab Police officer told IANS in Chandigarh, suggesting that the revelations of the abducted SP might not have been taken "very seriously".
Salwinder Singh had had claimed that he and his associates were going in his multi-utility vehicle to a religious shrine on Thursday night when they were signalled to stop by the four men.
The incident took place near Dinanagar town, where three terrorists from Pakistan launched an attack in July last year. It lies about 250 km from Chandigarh.
The police officer claimed that one of the men took charge of the vehicle, which had a blue beacon on its roof, and drove towards Pathankot. After some distance, the officer was pushed out of the vehicle and the armed men took away his mobile phone.
The other two companions were also pushed out later, one after the other.
One of the two, Rajesh Kumar, was allegedly attacked by the armed men and his throat was slit. He has been admitted to a hospital in Pathankot.
The abandoned XUV was on Friday morning recovered by police near Akalgarh village near Pathankot.
Police on Friday recovered the body of the driver, Ikhraj Singh, of an Innova car, about 30 km from Pathankot.
Police was investigating if the same men, who abducted the police officer and his companions, had killed the Innova driver too.
Terrorists from Pakistan had launched a terror attack on Dinanagar town in Punjab's Gurdaspur district on July 27, leaving seven people dead, including a senior police officer.
The Punjab Police and security agencies were caught napping during the Dinanagar terror attack also.