Chandigarh: Punjab was saved a bloodbath today by the bravery of a Punjab Roadways bus driver who, despite running into a hail of bullets by the three terrorists not only tried to mow them down but sped away to the civil hospital in Gurdaspur, about 16km away.
The bus had 76 passengers, of which six were injured in the firing, sources said.
“When I heard the sound of gunfire, I just stepped on the accelerator. For over 2km I kept on swerving the bus. When I got to a safe distance, I called up the police and informed them,” bus driver Nanak Chand said over the phone.
Deputy chief minister Sukhbir Singh Badal, who is in Poland on an official visit, said in a statement issued in Chandigarh that the driver would be honoured.
The three terrorists had earlier tried unsuccessfully to grab a tempo on the highway and killed a roadside vendor.
After firing indiscriminately on the bus, the terrorists hijacked a Maruti 800, injured the driver and headed towards Dinanagar police station. On the way, they hurled a couple of grenades at a nursing home.
At the police station, they killed the guard before moving to an adjacent building that was vacant but was used to house the families of police personnel.
The terrorists were carrying GPS equipment, Kalashnikov rifles equipped with grenade launchers and magazines that could last hours of firing.
The first Punjab police team led by superintendent of police (detective department) Baljit Singh arrived at the police station with a small force from Gurdaspur around 6am and was immediately greeted with a hail of gunfire and grenade attacks.
“It was only after we received the feedback from Baljit that we realized that it was no ordinary law-and-order problem. The army was alerted, the National Security Guards were informed and Punjab police’s SWAT (Special Weapons and Tactics Team) commandos deployed. A helicopter was also used to pinpoint the location of the terrorists,” a police officer said.
While the army and BSF jawans cordoned off the area to ensure no terrorist could escape, it was the Punjab police team set up only four years ago and trained by Israeli experts that was involved in the operation.
The team was set up to deal with a 26/11 Mumbai-style attack and also to ensure that no time is wasted. This was the first time the state team’s services were used.
Twenty-eight of the SWAT commandos were involved in the operation. Regular Punjab police constables were also deployed to flush out the terrorists.
The last of the three terrorists was killed by the SWAT team around 5pm, 12 hours after they struck in Dinanagar.