Air traffic controller, not Mi-17 hangar, could have been actual target in Jammu drone attack

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New Delhi: The Improvised Explosive Device (IED), which was dropped from what is believed to be a commercially available small drone on the Air Force station in Jammu, had metal pieces in it to cause splinter injuries and could be a mixture of the RDX and some other explosive, ThePrint has learnt.

Sources in the defence and security establishment also said that while initially it was thought that the helicopter hangar at the base was the target, since the IED fell close to it, agencies are also looking at the possibility of the attack being aimed at the Air Traffic Control (ATC) tower, which is common to the Indian Air Force (IAF) and the civil airport.

This thought process is primarily because the IED, which had impact charges — explosives that set off after contact with an object — had metal pieces in it.

Sources also said it is believed that those who operated the drone zeroed in on the target using Google’s satellite imagery. The Jammu and Kashmir Police are also probing possible links to the recovery of another IED in Jammu.

Further, security agencies are working on the assessment that the drone could have actually flown in from Pakistan. They said that the chance of the drone being operated from Jammu is less.

There is, however, no concrete evidence as of now to rule out either possibility.

Sources added that the attack was carried out by someone technologically savvy and not by the regular network of Over Ground Workers (OGWs) of terror groups.

Multiple agencies, including those from the defence and the security establishment, are involved in the investigations besides the National Investigation Agency (NIA) and the Jammu and Kashmir Police. 

The formal probe into the case will be taken over by the NIA, sources said.

Multiple sources that ThePrint spoke to also said that no drone pieces were found at both the blast sites, which meant that the drone dropped the IEDs and managed to fly back to safety. 

Also read: Why countering ‘low-tech drone terror’ is going to be a big challenge for India

Mixture of explosives was possibly used

Asked about the kind of explosives that is suspected to have been used, sources said that it looks like a mixture of two explosives.

They also said that it is suspected that the two IEDS were of different weights. However, it is believed that not more than 4-5 kg of explosives were used.

“The exact nature of the explosives and the quantity would be clear only after the analysis is out,” a second source said. 

Asked about reports that RDX was used, sources said that pure RDX would have taken down the building and not caused just a hole in the roof. 

“The explosives are likely to be mixed ones. RDX could have been used along with another explosive,” a third source said.

They also said that the entire operation and planning was a complicated one, and hence it is believed some specialist with the practice of operating and rigging a drone to carry explosives was involved.

“The IED had impact charges which exploded on contact with the surface. Traditionally, IEDs are either timed or activated using a phone or when a vehicle or a person hits the wire attached to it. So this kind of IED needs careful handling and specialisation,” a fourth source told ThePrint.

Also read: Nano, micro, small: The different drone types in India & if Jammu-like strike can be averted

ATC may have been the target

Sources said agencies are also looking at the possibility of the ATC being the target and not the hangar.

“If the idea was to take out a helicopter or two, then it would not have had metal pieces to cause splinters or to hit any other equipment,” a source said. “The only area where there are people and equipment to be hit by these splinters at that particular point of time was the ATC.”

Sources, however, said that this is still conjecture that is being worked on and one cannot say accurately at this point of time what the actual target was.

A fifth source said those operating the drone zeroed down on the target using Google’s satellite imagery. 

Investigators suspect that the target was the ATC, which controls air traffic of both the air base and the civilian airport, and the aim of the terrorists was to disrupt that.

“We strongly suspect that their aim was to target the ATC, although the explosives fell closer to the hangar of the helicopters. They identified the location using Google satellite images. We are trying to ascertain what they wanted to target,” the source said. 

Agencies suspect link to Narwal IED recovery 

Another source said agencies are exploring a possible link between the drone attack and the 5 kg IED recovered from a terrorist in Jammu’s Narwal area Saturday.

Investigators suspect that this IED was paradropped from Pakistan’s side, using a drone.

The police are questioning the accused about the origin of the explosives.

“We suspect that the 5 kg IED, that was recovered at Narwal, was provided by the same source from Pakistan and was delivered in Jammu using a drone in the same way. The two seem to be linked,” the second source said. “We are questioning the operative who has been arrested to ascertain who was the deliverer of the explosives [and] how it reached him.” 

(Edited by Arun Prashanth)

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