India probes suspected drone attack at Jammu airbase

Investigators are probing a suspected drone strike on an airbase in India’s restive north, officials said Sunday, as experts said such an attack would be a first in the vast country and raised concerns about security at military installations.

“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,” the Indian Air Force tweeted.

“There was no damage to any equipment. The investigation is in progress along with civil agencies.”

Jammu and Kashmir’s Director General of Police, Dilbagh Singh, said in a statement that a “drone with payload” was suspected to have been used to “drop the explosive material”. 

He called the incident a “terror attack” in an interview with the Press Trust of India.

The Indian Express newspaper reported that two people have been arrested so far over the incident, while two people at the airbase suffered minor injuries.

A team from India’s counter-terrorism task force, the National Investigation Agency, has reached Jammu to probe the incident, an official told AFP.

Police have reportedly filed the first complaint about the attack under anti-terrorism laws. Singh did not say which individuals or groups were suspected being behind the blasts.

Retired Lt. General D.S. Hooda, who until 2016 headed India’s Northern Command, said the country’s military radar system can detect threats such as aircraft and larger unmanned aerial vehicles — but perhaps not drones.

“It could have been a potent attack — there is no need to physically cross over into a military establishment, you could attack it from the air,” Hooda told AFP of the Jammu incident.

“We have to start looking at seriously monitoring drone activity and getting anti-drone systems in place as soon as possible.”

Singh said that later Sunday, police recovered an explosive device weighing some five to six kilogrammes (11-13 pounds) at a different location, and one suspect was detained — but told local media the arrest was not linked to the airbase strike.

He said a “major terror attack” had been averted, as the device was allegedly “received by a LET (militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba) outfit operative and was to planted at some crowded place”.

The Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) is designated by the United Nations as a terrorist organisation.

The northern territory of Jammu and Kashmir was formed after India’s only Muslim-majority state of the same name was stripped of its semi-autonomy in August 2019 by the Hindu nationalist government.

The restive state was broken up into two territories directly controlled by the national government — Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh.

The government said it was a necessary step for the region’s development and for ending a three-decade armed rebellion against Indian rule in Kashmir that left thousands of mostly civilians dead.

The Himalayan region has been divided between India and Pakistan since 1947, with many demanding an independent country.

The incident came three days after Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi met with Kashmir’s leaders for the first time since the autonomy decision.

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