At least 14 persons were killed and 15 others sustained serious injuries when suspected NDFB(S) militants fired bullets indiscriminately at a village marketplace in Kokrajhar district, about 200 kms west of Guwahati, on Friday afternoon. This incidentally was the first major violence carried out by any rebel group in Assam since the BJP-led government of Sarbananda Sonowal took charge on May 24.
The two militants came in an autorickshaw to the Balajan Tiniali bazaar and fired from two automatic weapons at the people who had gathered in the market, killing 12 on the spot. One of them also lobbed a grenade which, while exploding, injured several persons. Some market huts also caught fire. Balajan Tiniali is 12 kms north of Kokrajhar town. The incident took place at around 12:30 pm. Security forces managed to gun down one of the militants soon after the incident.
Though no group has claimed responsibility for the incident, Assam Police Director-General Mukesh Sahay said there were enough indications to point the finger of suspicion at the Songbijit faction of the National Democratic Front of Bodoland – NDFB(S). “Going by the fact that one militant has been gunned down by the police and an AK-56 weapon and a grenade were recovered from him, it looks like an NDFB(S) attack. But then it will be too premature to come to a conclusion at this stage,” Sahay told The Indian Express over the telephone as he was on his way to Kokrajhar.
While the NDFB(S) is known for targeting particular community, sometimes Adivasis, sometimes migrant Muslims, the victims of Friday’s indiscriminate attack near Kokrajhar included Bodo tribals, Muslims, Assamese and Bengali as well. Six of the 14 killed have been identified as Salam Ali Mandal, Danda Basumatary, Maniram Basumatary, Tapan Chakrabarty, Parameswar Nath and Magar Ali.
The last time when the NDFB(S) – a break-away faction led by IK Songbijit who has refused to come to peace talks – had struck in a big way was in December 2014 when it killed 76 persons – most of them Santhals and other adivasi settlers – in Sonitpur, Kokrajhar and Chirang districts. While the NDFB faction was lying low on activities, security forces had apprehended 27 of its cadres and killed five since the BJP-led government took charge in Assam.
The Home Ministry is in touch with the Assam Government & is monitoring the situation closely. @HMOIndia
Saddened by the attack in Kokrajhar. We strongly condemn it. Thoughts & prayers with the bereaved families & those injured.
— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) August 5, 2016
Assam chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal, who was in New Delhi, not only described the incident as “cowardly and dastardly”, but also warned of stern action against the militants. “We will not tolerate any threat from any group. The government will not bow to any pressure while tackling terrorist groups,” an official statement quoting the chief minister said. He also asked the DCs and SPs of all districts to remain on high alert in view of the incident.
Senior minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, forest minister Pramila Rani Brahma, DGP Mukesh Sahay meanwhile have rushed to Kokrajhar to take stock of the situation.