Wed, Feb 27, 2019 - Page 1 News List

Pakistan rejects Indian claim of bombing militant camp

AFP, ISLAMABAD

People in Bhopal, India, yesterday hold placards and shout slogans in response to reports that the Indian Air Force carried out strikes near Balakot, Pakistan.

Photo: EPA-EFE

Pakistan yesterday rejected India’s claim that it killed many militants in an airstrike, branding it “self-serving, reckless and fictitious.”

Pakistani officials have said that Indian warplanes did breach its airspace and drop a payload over Balakot in the country’s northwest, but added that there was no damage or casualties.

The Pakistani National Security Council “strongly rejected [the] Indian claim of targeting an alleged terrorist camp near Balakot and the claim of heavy casualties,” Pakistani Minister of Foreign Affairs Shah Mehmood Qureshi told a news conference in Islamabad.

“Once again [the] Indian government has resorted to a self-serving, reckless and fictitious claim,” he said, adding that the violation was an “uncalled for aggression to which Pakistan shall respond at the time and place of its choosing.”

Qureshi spoke after India said yesterday that its warplanes struck a militant camp where Pakistan-backed fighters were preparing suicide attacks on its cities.

A “very large number of militants from the Jaish-e-Mohammad group were killed in the nighttime attack,” the Indian Ministry of External Affairs said.

Pakistani fighters scrambled to force the Indian jets back, which dropped payloads as they escaped, Pakistan said, without clarifying what it meant by “payloads.”

Villagers near the town of Balakot said they were shaken out of their sleep by what seemed like an earthquake early yesterday.

Only one person was wounded in the attack, the villagers said, adding that they knew of no fatalities.

A resident, who did not want to give his name, said there was a nearby madrasah run by Jaish-e-Mohammed, although most villagers were guarded talking about the extremist group.

Another person, who also declined to give his name, said that the militants had had a presence in the area for years.

“I belong to that area. I know for sure that there has been a training camp. It used to be there. I know Jaish people ran it,” he said. “This camp was turned into a madrasah several years ago, but no one would still be allowed to get close to this infrastructure. There are scores of students in the madrasah at any given time.”

Set in a wooded, hilly area in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province on the way to the scenic Kaghan Valley, about 40km from the de facto border with India, Balakot was one of many towns that was devastated by as massive earthquake in 2005.

From what villagers could see, the Indian attack had missed its target as the bombs dropped and exploded about a kilometer away from the madrasah.

Mohammad Ajmal, a 25 year-old villager near Jaba Top, where the attack took place, said that he heard four loud bangs in succession just before 3am.

“We couldn’t tell what had happened. It was only in the morning that we figured out it was an attack,” he said after visiting the site, in a wooded hilltop area. “We saw fallen trees and one damaged house, and four craters where the bombs had fallen.”

Fida Hussain Shah, a 46 year-old farmer, said he and other villagers had found pieces of Indian ordnance that had splintered pine trees on the hill, but that the only casualty was a man sleeping in his house when shrapnel broke the windows.

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