Security

Balakot Madrassa Students Heard Explosion, Kept in Military Safe House After Airstrike: Report

Pakistani forces had been providing security cover to the madrassa for a week before the strike, the relative of a student has said.

New Delhi: Students at a Jaish-e-Mohammad seminary in Balakot – the target of the February 26 Indian Air Force airstrike – reportedly heard a loud noise in the middle of the night on that day, and were escorted to a safe house by Pakistan Army hours later.

The Indian Express has reportedly spoken to the relatives of one the boys who was in the madrassa that night, who said that the students were sent back to their respective homes after spending a few days in the safe house.

Pakistani forces had been providing security cover to the madrassa since a week before the strike, the relative said.

The Madrassa Taleem-ul-Quran is located on top of a ridge called Jabha Top.

The student told his family that early in the morning on February 26, while it was still dark and the students were still asleep, the woke up because of a “massive exploding” sound. “The sound was not far away, it was quite close,” Indian Express quoted the relative as saying.

Also read: Four Reasons India Has Little Cause to Cheer the Balakot Airstrike and its Aftermath

Not seeing anything amiss, the students thought they may have dreamt the sound and went back to sleep, the relative said. When they woke up later, soldiers were on the premises and escorting them out. They were taken to a safe house, where they stayed for “two or three” days.

“He said there were quite a lot of people at the madrassa but not all of them went to the safe house. It was him and some others of the same age group. He does not know what happened to the others or where the explosion took place,” Indian Express quoted the relative as saying.

The relative also said that because some photos of the madrassa had been leaked before, security forces had been guarding the area for a week before the airstrike.

Unanswered questions

The Indian Express report does not mention whether the student knew of any madrassa buildings being hit, or whether there was any commotion after the airstrikes.

More than ten days after the Balakot airstrikes, a lot is still unknown. While unidentified sources in the Indian government have been saying that more than 300 people were killed in the airstrike, Pakistan has said that there were no casualties.

Also read: Days After Airstrike, Questions Still Remain About the Indian, Pakistani Versions

The IAF chief has said the the air force does not count casualties. However, Bharatiya Janata Party president Amit Shah and party spokesperson Sambit Patra have been quoting casualty numbers ranging from 250 to 400.

Pakistan has refused to give access to the madrassa, making it impossible for the media or anyone else to independently verify the damage done. India has also refused to reveal satellite images.

Meanwhile, satellite imagery, as analysed by two different independent experts, indicates that the structures at the madrassa were unaffected and the airstrike missed it target. Indian authorities have not responded to these analyses.