The Pakistan Navy on Wednesday retracted the number of Mehran base attackers that it cited in its First Information Report (FIR) lodged at the Shahrae Faisal police station on Tuesday.
The initial count of the terrorists provided by the navy personnel stood at around 10 to 12. However, on Wednesday they amended the number to four.
The new headcount is more in line with the one provided by Interior Minister Rehman Malik, who said there were six terrorists who launched the assault on the PNS Mehran Airbase.
The police have started investigations into the attack.
According to sources, the police have recorded statements of eight navy and two Rangers’ personnel who were injured in the attack.
The sources said that the police were being forced into reducing the number of terrorists nominated in the FIR because the Pakistan Navy’s numbers largely contradicted those provided by the interior minister who had said that four of the attackers had been killed while two had managed to escape.
Shahrae Faisal senior investigation officer (SIO) Sajjad Ali, however, denied that the navy personnel were putting any sort of pressure on the police to reduce the number of nominated terrorists in the FIR. “It’s not true. We have no pressure from the navy.”
Responding to a query regarding the sudden decline in numbers, the SIO said, “We cannot rely solely on the FIR since it is just the initial report. What’s more important is the statements as they play a vital role in the investigation process.”
“None of them saw more than four terrorists. In fact some only saw three,” he added. Quoting some of the victims, the SIO said, “They [the terrorists] entered and began firing rockets, hurling hand grenades and then resorted to firing. The number of attackers was unclear, but we did not see more than three to four of them.”
He added that the police had recovered nearly one thousand empty casings, including seven rocket shells. He said they were unaware of the exact number of hand grenades that were lobbed.
The empty shells found from the site came from sub-machine guns, 222 rifles and G-3 guns.
The bodies of the terrorists who were killed in the operation are being kept at the Edhi morgue in Sohrab Goth. The police are waiting for the postmortem and DNA reports.
The SIO said that the fingerprints of the four terrorists had been gathered and they were seeking NADRA’s help in identifying the attackers.
He said the ladder used by the terrorists to climb over the walls to enter the base had not been provided to the police for examination.
Sources close to the investigation told The Express Tribune that the fingerprints of the terrorists had been compared against nearly 360,000 from the existing records, but there had been no matches so far.
However, SIO Ali said that the process was ongoing and nothing could be said for certain yet.
Terrorists’ cell-phone recovered
There were reports that the investigation committee has recovered one cell-phone from the naval base. According to reports, the cell-phone may belong to one of the terrorists who managed to escape during the 17-hour gun battle. Investigators, along with the help of NADRA, are trying to trace the ownership of the SIM recovered from the cell phone and locate the absconding terrorists and their network.
“I have no confirmation regarding the recovery of a cell-phone of the terrorists who managed to get away,” Navy DG PR Irfanul Haq told The Express Tribune. “A committee has been constituted and the investigation is under way. Everything will be shared with the media, but it will take some time,” he added.
Suspects detained over PNS Mehran attack
According to some unconfirmed reports, the intelligence and law enforcement agencies have detained at least three suspects in a raid carried out in Ghausia Colony, Shah Faisal Colony No 5, and also seized a house on the suspicion that the terrorists might have been staying there prior to the attack.
Ghausia Colony is located behind the naval base. However, no official confirmed any arrest in connection with Sunday’s attack. “There have been no arrests,” SIO Ali told The Express Tribune, adding: “No house has been sealed either.”
Published in The Express Tribune, May 26th, 2011.