Pathankot Attack: The Route SP Salwinder Took Could Blow His Alibi

Pathankot Attack: The Quint retraces SP Salwinder Singh’s route and finds some startling loose ends in his alibi.

Updated
India
6 min read
Unexplained visit, missing hours, too many coincidences. Here’s what makes SP Salwinder Singh’s story suspicious.

The cover story of the Gurdaspur Superintendent of Police Salwinder Singh, who is at the centre of a controversy over his questionable role and activities the night before six terrorists attacked the Pathankot air base on January 1, could be blown if investigators carefully probe the route that he followed till the point when he was said to have been accosted by the saboteurs.

On-the-ground investigations by The Quint suggest that Salwinder Singh took a longer route to try to reach Gurdaspur after he left the shrine of a peer located at Taloor village, though he had taken a shorter route when he drove to it via Kathua in adjoining Jammu and Kashmir.

Shrine caretaker, Som Raj speaking to The Quint (see the video below).

Speaking to The Quint, the shrine caretaker Som Raj said January 1 was the first time that he had ever seen the SP who “reached the mazaar via Kathua” and after chatting inane things about his fondness for the Ajmer Sharif dargah, “left around 9:30 pm” but not before making a donation of Rs 100. Accompanying him were his jeweller friend from Gurdaspur, Rajesh Verma, and cook Madan Gopal, who is Som Raj’s uncle.

Snapshot

Blowing Holes in SP’s Story

  • Som Raj, caretaker of the shrine Singh allegedly visited, told The Quint that 1 January was the first time that he had ever seen the SP who “reached the mazaar via Kathua”.
  • What makes Salwinder’s story even more suspicious is the three-hour time gap between him being accosted by the terrorists and being let off.
  • Why would an SP pay obeisance at a nondescript shrine of which Som Raj had become the caretaker just “five to six years ago”?
  • Som Raj has no answers when asked why the SP’s jeweller friend Rajesh Verma, the cook, Madan Gopal, would visit him twice in a span of 12 hours
  • Why would the terrorists stop a vehicle mounted with a blue beacon carrying three men?

Suspicious Route and a Brutal Death

Salwinder drove from Taloor to Fatehpur, Mangwal and Bamial before reaching Kolian, where he claimed he was waylaid by the terrorists and then abducted. Jaspal Singh, a panchayat member of Bamial village, which the terrorists crossed before reaching Kolian, said that the SP could have followed a shorter route (Taloor-Fatehpur-Narot Jamail Singh) to Kolian.

Infographic: Rahul Gupta/<b>The Quint</b>
Infographic: Rahul Gupta/The Quint

Had he not been stopped by the terrorists, the SP would then have crossed the bridge over the Ravi before reaching a tri-junction. The road straight ahead would have taken him to Dinanagar (in Gurdaspur) which is just 13 kms from the tri-junction. The road to the left leads to Pathankot.

The trijunction before the bridge on the Ravi. (Photo: Chandan Nandy)
The trijunction before the bridge on the Ravi. (Photo: Chandan Nandy)

Interestingly, Kolian is also the place where the so-called taxi driver, 35-year-old Ikagar Singh of Kathana village, adjoining Bamial, was brutally killed by the terrorists. The spot where he was killed is marked by fading, though still clear, streams of blood and is close to a sharp curve on the road, about 2 kms from the Ravi bridge. Ikagar’s killing was brutal: his wrists were tied, his neck was hacked, he was stabbed in the belly twice before his testicles were cut off.

Ikagar Singh of Kathana village near the India-Pakistan border, who was brutally killed by the terrorists on the night of December 31 before they attacked the IAF air base in Pathankot. (Photo: Chandan Nandy)
Ikagar Singh of Kathana village near the India-Pakistan border, who was brutally killed by the terrorists on the night of December 31 before they attacked the IAF air base in Pathankot. (Photo: Chandan Nandy)
Ikagar Singh’s body was found on January 1 after he was killed by the terrorists at Kolian near the bridge on the Ravi. (Photo: <b>The Quint</b>)
Ikagar Singh’s body was found on January 1 after he was killed by the terrorists at Kolian near the bridge on the Ravi. (Photo: The Quint)

The Unexplained Visit and Three Missing Hours

What makes Salwinder’s story even more suspicious is the three-hour time gap between when he was accosted by the terrorists and when he was mercifully let off. What did he do for three hours and then at least two more hours before he tried rousing some villager and making the first phone call to his superiors in Gurdaspur? Why would an SP pay obeisance at a nondescript shrine of which Som Raj had become the caretaker just “five to six years ago”?

The non-descript shrine of a peer at Taloor village where Gurdaspur SP Salwinder Singh, his jeweller friend Rajesh Verma and cook Madan Gopal visited. (Photo: <b>The Quint</b>)
The non-descript shrine of a peer at Taloor village where Gurdaspur SP Salwinder Singh, his jeweller friend Rajesh Verma and cook Madan Gopal visited. (Photo: The Quint)

Som Raj had no steady source of income before he began taking care of the mazaar. Earlier, he used to do odd jobs repairing music systems and decks in his village and at Narot Jamail Singh. Over the past year or so, the shrine has seen good days. A proper structure has come up and it is being expanded.

He claims that the money for the expansion of the shrine has come from two BSF jawans (now posted somewhere in Tripura) from his village as a “gift” because their “prayers for government employment were answered after they paid obeisance at this mazaar.”

Som Raj doesn’t have an answer when asked why the SP’s jeweller friend Rajesh Verma, his uncle, the cook, Madan Gopal, would visit him twice in a span of 12 hours. Verma and Gopal visited the shrine around 8:30 am on Thursday (December 31) whereas he usually opens the mazaar for devotees at 11 am. Verma and Gopal donated Rs 50 each at the shrine before leaving, only to return around 9 pm along with Salwinder.



Infographic: Rahul Gupta/<b>The Quint</b>
Infographic: Rahul Gupta/The Quint

Too Many Coincidences

The story surrounding the events leading to the attack on the Pathankot air base has too many coincidences that cannot be overlooked. The terrorists are suspected to have crossed over at Paharipur, where the riverine border area is unfenced, on the evening of December 31.

A small stream of nallah that the terrorists are suspected to have crossed before entering Bamial village in Pathankot. (Photo: <b>The Quint</b>)
A small stream of nallah that the terrorists are suspected to have crossed before entering Bamial village in Pathankot. (Photo: The Quint)

They then trudged a few kilometres to reach Bamial, near where Igakar Singh, whose elder brother is in the army, lived. This would mean that they spent about 24 hours before they set off for the deadly mission and killed Igakar after stopping his Innova car. Were they sheltered by villagers in Bamial, which has a few Gujjar hamlets for 24 hours, before they took the road to Pathankot?

A view of the barbed wire fencing somewhere in Bamial village in Pathankot. The picture was taken from an elevated part of a BSF outpost of the force’s 132nd battalion in Bamial, Pathankot. (Photo: Chandan Nandy)
A view of the barbed wire fencing somewhere in Bamial village in Pathankot. The picture was taken from an elevated part of a BSF outpost of the force’s 132nd battalion in Bamial, Pathankot. (Photo: Chandan Nandy)

Jaspal Singh, the Bamial panchayat member, showed me the huge footprints that he noticed (on January 1 morning) on a small plot of land where he had planted garlic. The footprints led toward the Ujj, a tributary of the Ravi, beyond which lies Kolian.

Footprints with the marks of Pakistani sports shoe brand ‘Epcot’. (Photo: Chandan Nandy)
Footprints with the marks of Pakistani sports shoe brand ‘Epcot’. (Photo: Chandan Nandy)

Ikagar Singh is said to have left his Kathana village house around 9:10 pm on December 31 after receiving a call from his maternal uncle living in nearby Janial village. He last spoke to a relative in Janial at 9:36 pm. Meanwhile, if Som Raj is to be believed, Salwinder, Verma and Madan Gopal left the shrine around 9:30 pm.

A resident of Bamial village, subedar major (retd) Harpal Singh narrating how he came across “foreign” footprints on his farm land (see the video below).

It takes no more than a 25-minute drive from Taloor to Kolian. Why would the terrorists stop a vehicle mounted with a blue beacon carrying three men? Accosting an “official” vehicle could spell danger and potentially blow their operation. And yet they stopped the vehicle before nine people (Salwinder, Verma, Gopal and the six terrorists) crowded into it.

Jaspal Singh, Bamial panchayat member speaking to The Quint (see the video below)

Since Kolian, or even the spot where Igakar was killed, is a short distance from the Ravi bridge, an “official” vehicle was the best cover for the terrorists, carrying a huge load of arms and ammunition (about 70-80 kgs) to cross the bridge at the other end of which is a permanent Punjab Police naka. An SP would not be questioned by the armed police on guard. Salwinder, as the front, would have served the purpose perfectly.

Some members of the National Investigation Agency in Pathankot town before leaving to continue with their probe. (Photo: Chandan Nandy)
Some members of the National Investigation Agency in Pathankot town before leaving to continue with their probe. (Photo: Chandan Nandy)

The National Investigation Team, which has called the SP over to Delhi for a polygraph test, is interested in finding out whether Salwinder was a willing pawn of the deadly narcotics-terrorism nexus that operates in Punjab or a blundering cop who walked into a trap.

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