ISLAMABAD, Oct 11: A pre-dawn raid by a crack commando squad of the army’s Special Services Group on an intelligence office building in the outer ring of the General Headquarters on Sunday brought to an end a traumatic hostage saga that had started with the storming of the army’s headquarters by terrorists on Saturday.
Thirty-nine of the 42 hostages were freed, but not before two SSG men lost their lives. Three hostages were killed by heavily armed terrorists. Four terrorists were killed during the operation and the fifth, believed to be the ringleader, was captured after having been injured.
The operation codenamed Nasr-o-Minallah involved SSG men specially trained to deal with such situations. The commandos equipped with modern gear and night-vision goggles were sent in before dawn to take out the terrorists before daylight which might have emboldened the gunmen holding such a large number of hostages.
Senior army officers said the precision with which the operation was carried out helped save most of the hostages.
According to security sources, 30 hostages were rescued in the first phase of the operation. The captives were in a room with a terrorist wearing a suicide vest. But the commandos acted so swiftly to shoot the man down that he was unable to pull the button to blow himself up.
However, the terrorists’ leader Aqeel alias Dr Usman initially managed to escape to another part of the building.
In the second phase of the operation, the remaining nine hostages were rescued.
Aqeel was arrested when he set off explosives, injuring himself and five army personnel.
A couple of hours later, the military announced that the operation was over. “The situation is under complete control and there is no terrorist inside now,” military spokesman Maj-Gen Athar Abbas told Dawn.
In all, eight military personnel were killed, including a brigadier and a lieutenant colonel. Several others were injured.
Police sources described Aqeel as one of the high-profile militants wanted in a series of terrorist activities. Rawalpindi police chief Rao Mohammad Iqbal said Aqeel was a former member of the nursing staff in the Combined Military Hospital and was wanted by police in several cases. Another official said he was believed to have links with the attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore and an attempt to kill former president Pervez Musharraf in 2007 by firing machinegun rounds towards his aircraft from the roof of a house near the airport.
Officials were of the view that his interrogation might lead to information about militant groups involved in such attacks, the most audacious of which was said to be the attempt to storm the army headquarters.
The episode had started on Saturday when four terrorists clad in army uniform tried to enter the GHQ and were gunned down at a checkpoint near the main gate. Some of their accomplices managed to slip into a security building and took hostage dozens of staff members, including army personnel and civilians.
Brig Anwar Ramday and Lt-Col Wasim Amir, who were among four security personnel killed in the terrorists’ raid on Saturday, were laid to rest in the army graveyard in Rawalpindi and Swabi, respectively.
The success of the militants carrying weapons and explosives to move unchecked on the barricaded roads of Rawalpindi and Islamabad and enter the premises of the heavily guarded GHQ to take dozens of people hostage was described by several analysts as a security lapse, particularly in the wake of intelligence reports that had suggested that the GHQ might come under a terrorist assault, and even pointed out that the attackers might use military uniforms.
However, Interior Minister Rehman Malik and Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira insisted that there was no security lapse. Talking to reporters, Mr Malik pointed out that four of the terrorists wearing military uniform had been killed. He said the incident had strengthened the government’s resolve to crush the terrorists and an operation in South Waziristan had now become inevitable.
He said the militants were getting arms and ammunition through Afghanistan. “If Afghanistan is just being used as a transit route, it is for Afghanistan to find out where this ammunition is coming from,” he said.
The information minister said the intruders had been intercepted at the first checkpoint.
President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani felicitated the army on the successful completion of the operation. In a message to Chief of Army Staff Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, the president said the whole nation stood behind the armed forces. He said it was commendable that the operation was completed in the shortest possible time.
“This speaks volumes about the combat preparedness of our military.”
He said saving hostages with minimum casualties was a proof of impeccable supremacy and skilfulness of the operational strategy of the army. “The martyrs owe the nation’s respect and gratitude for saving us from national embarrassment,” the president said.
He also commended the arrest of a terrorist. Prime Minister Gilani called the army chief to express satisfaction over the successful completion of the operation. He lauded the sacrifices of the jawans and officers who had laid down their lives.
The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee, Gen Tariq Majid, called on the prime minister and discussed the security situation.
Punjab Governor Salman Taseer and Chief Minister Mohammad Shahbaz Sharif also called the army chief to congratulate him.