Srinagar: A conglomerate of nearly fifteen militant groups, United Jihad Council (UJC), based in Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK), has claimed responsibility for the deadly terror attack on the Pathankot air base in Punjab, where search and combing operation is still going on, even after 48 hours.
Seven security personnel and five terrorists have been killed so far including one IAF Garud commando and five from Defence Services Corps (DSC). One National Security Guards officer of a Lt Col-rank also died while defusing a grenade during the ongoing combing operation.
In a statement to the Srinagar-based news gathering agency Current News Service, the spokesperson of the United Jihad Council Syed Sadaqat Hussain has claimed that Pathankot air base attack was carried out by "Kashmiri militants" associated with 'Highway Squad'.
But strangely, the statement issued by UJC, provides little information about the terrorist organisation which carried out the attack in Pathankot, although it says the attack was carried out by 'Highway Squad', but refrains from pointing out the name of the organisation or a terror group which the attackers belong to.
The spokesperson of the UJC told the news agency that, “Indian government and its media have been suffering from Pakistan phobia. By accusing Pakistan for every attack, India neither succeeded in past to malign the Kashmir Freedom Struggle nor will it get anything in future through malicious propaganda."
“The attack on Pathankot air base from Kashmiri Mujhadeen carries a message to India that no security establishment and garrison are out of reach from militants. Instead of accusing Pakistan, India should read the writing on the wall and without wasting any time should provide an opportunity to the people of Kashmir to decided their future,” the statement read.
Six terrorists reportedly attacked the Pathankot air base in a pre-dawn assault on Saturday. The government is however guarded on spelling out the actual number of terrorists involved in the attack until the combing operation is finally completed.
Four terrorists were killed following a gun battle with security forces on the same day. However, two other militants managed to keep commandos from the NSG and IAF engaged for two more days. Security agencies believe the operation would be called off tonight.
UJC is the largest conglomerate of militant organisations based in PoK and usually carry out operations mainly against security forces in the Kashmir valley.
“But it unlikely they have carried out this attack. There is some kind of politics involved in this. It could be pressure from Islamabad also,” a senior counterinsurgency expert based in Jammu and Kashmir told FirstPost.
The group is headed by Mohammad Yousuf Shah alias Syed Salahuddin, a Kashmir from south Kashmir Budgam area, who heads the conglomerate. The Hizbul supremo and United Jihad Council chairman Salahuddin figures among the 20 most wanted fugitives in India.
The conglomerate came into being in 1994, the main reason behind unifying the organisation was to "unite different militant organisation fighting the India state in Kashmir."
Some of the UJC constitute include Lashkar-e-Taiba, Hizb-ul-Mujahideen, Tehrik-ul-Mujahideen, Harakat-ul-Ansar, Al-Jihad, Al-Barq. Although Jaish-e-Mohammed is not part of the UJC, which is the prime suspect behind the attack in Pathankot, as it has distanced itself from the conglomerate following the Jaish involvement in the terror attacks beyond the borders of Jammu and Kashmir.
Security officials in Jammu and Kashmir say it is interesting the organisation has refrained from directly pinpointing which militant group is responsible for the Pathankot attack.
“But it might be a move to divert the attention from the real culprit by claiming that Kashmiri militants are responsible for the attack. We have never heard of Highway Squad," a police official said.
However, according to intelligence agencies the attack is believed to be carried out by Maulana Masood Azhar-led group Jaish-e-Muhammad, which carried out a similar attack in Tangdhar area of north Kashmir in November last year.