New Delhi: Just 10 months after a terrorist attack knifed through Jammu’s Sunjwan military camp, the Indian Army’s 51 Armoured Regiment foiled an attack on the Ratnuchak camp in Jammu in the wee hours of Sunday, when the sentry fired at two Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) terrorists carrying arms and ammunition.

Considering that the JeM terrorists had been spotted nearly a week ago near the camp, this episode once again exposes the vulnerability of India’s security establishments with terrorist outfits gaining quick access to the camps through adjoining civilian clusters.

One person familiar with the development said the sentry at the Ratnuchak camp spotted the two JeM terrorists at 1.40am with weapons and backpacks, and immediately opened fire. Though one of the terrorists was injured both managed to escape to a nearby civilian cluster.

Even though a cordon and search operation (CASO) was launched by the Indian Army, the Para (special forces) and the Jammu and Kashmir Police, the terrorists were not found.

Following the incident, the adjacent Sunjwan and Kaluchak camps have also sounded a red alert.

Like the Sunjwan camp, which was attacked in February, the Ratnuchak camp, which houses families of Indian Army officers, is open to civilian movement. Intelligence units said that such camps were vulnerable to terrorist attacks as they provide ample reconnaissance opportunities to terrorist outfits.

“The JeM has been targeting security establishments. It is not a coincidence, but a well thought out and planned exercise on their part. They have been identifying such camps and keeping a close watch for weeks at a stretch, with adequate help from local villagers," said a senior intelligence official, seeking anonymity.

Taking a cue from the May 2016 report submitted by the former vice chief of army Lt. Gen Philip Campose, which addressed the issue of perimeter security of defence installations following the attack on the Pathankot air base, the centre had raised the height of boundary walls of security camps following the attack on Sunjwan.

While the perimeter height of these camps had remained vulnerable until recently—making the goings-on within the camps visible even from the highway connecting Jammu and Udhampur–intelligence officials said the prevalence of civilian clusters along these camps was a cause for concern.

“The boundary walls at Sunjwan and Ratnuchak have only recently been raised higher. However, in Ratnuchak there is free flowing movement of civilians. It’s almost like a thorough-fare route. We had floated the idea that it should be closed to civilian traffic, but that plan was not paid heed to. Second, there is an unnatural number of growing jhuggis and slum clusters along these camps and those are safe havens for militants," said the intelligence official.

Defence experts said the layout and location of such camps made them susceptible to such attacks. While camps between Akhnoor in Jammu and Pathankot in Punjab were much larger and more open, the Samba cantonment in Jammu is located on both sides of a highway.

“In camps, which are family stations, there is a high degree of vulnerability where families can be targeted. Here, except for the quarter guard and the QRT (quick response team), nobody is armed and all weapons and guns are kept in the armouries. Soldiers also have administrative duties here and it is simpler to catch them off-guard," said Lt. Gen. (retd) H.S. Panag, a former Indian Army official and defence expert.

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