The Assam Police Saturday said that the attack in a market here that left 14 people dead was carried out on the instructions of leaders of the Songbijit faction of the NDFB based in Bhutan.
DGP Mukesh Sahay told The Sunday Express that the strength of the militant group had become much depleted inside the state due to efforts of security forces in the past year and a half, and the NDFB(S) appeared to have set up a small base in the neighbouring country.
Naming two top leaders of the outfit, G Bidai and Batha Mushahary, Sahay said, “Both are currently holed up inside Bhutan. It is from there that the duo have been trying to carry out extortions and recruitment for the NDFB(S). Friday’s dastardly incident in Balajan Tiniali was also carried out on instructions from there.”
He also claimed that the numbers of cadres with Bidai and Mushahary “would not be more than 10 to 12”.
DGP Sahay, ADGP R M Singh, Additional Chief Secretary T Y Das and other officials held a marathon security review meeting in Kokrajhar on Saturday, where a decision was taken to intensify operations against the rebels.
An NIA team Saturday scoured the site of the attack and spoke to eyewitnesses, while a massive combing operation is on to catch those behind it.
Assam Finance Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, who also visited the attack site, said the militant who had been killed after the attack had been identified as Manjay Islari. “He was a self-styled area commander of 16th battalion of the NDFB(S) faction. We will give the body to his parents.”
In December 2003, the Royal Bhutan Army had carried out a massive operation, codenamed ‘Operation All Clear’, to demolish the camps of the ULFA, NDFB and KLO in its territory, and flushed out several hundred cadres.
DGP Sahay said the Bhutan government was aware that NDFB(S) militants continue to be present in the country, and had been helping Indian forces. “But the terrain there is very difficult,” he said, made worse by the monsoon.
Bidai, the “deputy army chief” of the NDFB(S), and Mushahary, its central committee member, both carry cash rewards of Rs 5 lakh each on their heads.
The Assam Police believes I K Songbijit, the self-styled chairman and commander-in-chief of the NDFB(S), is himself in Myanmar. “He has been trying to carry out fresh recruitments in Kokrajhar and other districts from there,” Sahay said.
The DGP pointed out that they had apprehended and eliminated several senior leaders of the militant group, putting the number at 40 cadres since the operations against it began in 2014 after attacks on Adivasi settlers in Sonitpur and Kokrajhar. “This is one reason which pushed them to carry out such an attack on Friday… That security forces could eliminate one militant within less than 30 minutes of the Balajan Tiniali attack itself is a major setback for the outfit,” the DGP said.
He said Bidai had himself had a narrow escape “when security forces mounted a major operation close to the border a few months ago”. “Forces had also carried out a massive operation along the Indo-Bhutan border Saturday morning. But we cannot just walk into another country.”
Police said the NDFB(S) was also running short of funds. “Instilling a sense of fear by carrying out an attack such as Friday’s will also help them carry out extortions,” Sahay said.
Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal visited the seriously injured at Gauhati Medical College Hospital. He said doctors had informed him that all the injured were out of danger.
(With PTI inputs)