Four gunmen died during an attack on an Indian Air Force base near the country’s border with Pakistan early Saturday, an incident that also saw two Indian soldiers die, officials said.
The heavily armed gunmen entered the base, in Pathankot in the western state of Punjab, after lobbing grenades at the sentries, air force spokeswoman Rochelle D’Silva said.
India’s border with Pakistan is a little more than 50 kilometres from Pathankot, a city that also serves as a gateway to Jammu and Kashmir state, where Islamic militants are active.
A group of five to six gunmen wearing military fatigues had on Friday hijacked the car of a senior police official, which had a flashing blue light as part of its outfitting.
They drove the car to the sprawling airbase, where they forced their way in at around 3:30 am Saturday (2200 GMT Friday), NDTV news channel reported.
The gunmen entered the base's residential area, but were contained and could not go to the technical side, where the aircraft and weapons are kept, D’Silva said.
Five airmen were also injured in the attack.
At least four militants were killed in the shoot-out, D'Silva said. However, it was not clear how many attackers had entered.
The gunmen were suspected to be a Fidayeen team from the Islamic militant group Jaish-e-Mohammed, which is based in Pakistan, NDTV reported.
Fresh firing could be heard from the base late in the afternoon after a lull, NDTV news channel reported.
Air force helicopters could also be seen hovering over the sprawling base which also has forested areas.
The search operations had been expanded to outside the base, as it was believed a couple of militants could have escaped, NDTV reported.
Federal Home Minister Rajnath Singh said India wanted peace in the region, but would not hesitate to give "a fitting reply" when attacked.
The United States condemned the attack and extended condolences to the victims and their families. A statement issued by the State Department said the US was committed to "our strong partnership with the Indian government to combat terrorism."
The attack came days after Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a surprise visit to Pakistan to meet his counterpart, Nawaz Sharif, to give a push to peace talks.
The nuclear-capable South Asian neighbours have fought three wars, two of them over the disputed Kashmir region.
India also blames Pakistan for aiding and abetting Kashmiri separatist militants. Islamabad denies the charge. It says they are freedom fighters.
Pakistan condemned Saturday's terrorist attack. In a statement the country’s Foreign Ministry said Pakistan wanted to build on the goodwill created by “recent high-level contacts.”
Pakistan was keen to cooperate with all countries in the region to “completely eradicate the menace of terrorism afflicting our region.”
In a similar attack in August, also in Indian Punjab, seven people were killed when heavily armed gunmen attacked a police station in Gurdaspur district.
Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal said the attackers had come across the border, which he urged Pakistan to control.
“It is up to the Pakistan government to control these people,” Badal said.
All military bases in the region, important installations and bigger cities including the national capital have been placed on high security alert.