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Taken to Assam after arrest in UP, 2 ‘cattle smugglers’ die in attack: Police

The duo have been identified as Akbar and Salman Banjara, two Uttar Pradesh-based brothers who were accused of running an “international cattle smuggling syndicate” as well as having links with militant groups.

On Monday night, for further investigation, the two were taken to an “interior” area in Raimona National Park, which according to the police, was a “route frequented by cattle smugglers.” (Representational/File)

TWO “CATTLE smugglers”, who were arrested in UP last week and handed over to Assam Police, were killed and four policemen injured in a gunfight on Monday night between suspected militants and police inside Raimona National Park in Kokrajhar, close to the India-Bhutan border, where the duo were being taken for “further investigation”, officials said.

The two have been identified as Meerut-based brothers Akbar Banjara and Salman Banjara, who were accused of allegedly running an “international cattle smuggling syndicate” and having links with militant groups, officials said. The four injured policemen are currently “out of danger”, they said.

“UP Police had arrested them on April 13, and handed them over to Assam Police. A case was registered at the Gossaigaon Police Station. The investigation revealed that the two had links to militant groups. There were multiple cases against them,” said Kokrajhar SP Prateek Thube.

Thube said UP Police were given a reward of Rs 2 lakh for nabbing the duo. A tweet from the UP Police handle on April 15 said Meerut Police had “busted a gang of inter-state cow smugglers who ran an international syndicate till Bangladesh & also carried a reward on their arrest”. “An officer from Assam police handed over the reward amount of Rs 2 lakh” to Meerut Police, the tweet said.

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According to Assam Police, the two brothers had disclosed information about “routes followed by them for cattle smuggling” and were taken to an “interior” area in the national park for “identification” and “further investigation”.

“On our way there, our team was ambushed by suspected militants, who started firing at the police vehicle. We believe they are the same group with which the two have links. Since our police personnel are trained, they were able to immediately take position. But the two [brothers] had slow reflexes, and that is why they were hit by the bullets,” Thube said.

Police officers said the incident happened around 1-1.30 am, and the gunfire lasted for 10-12 minutes. Akbar and Salman were taken to the nearest Primary Health Centre at Saraibil but were declared dead on arrival, police said.

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One AK-47 rifle with two magazines, 35 rounds of live ammunition and 28 rounds of fired empty cases were recovered from the spot, they said.

Police said there were “signs of some injuries that might have happened to the extremist group” at the ambush site. Combing operations are underway to nab the extremists, they said.

According to police, the brothers were allegedly involved in smuggling of cattle from UP, Haryana, West Bengal and Assam to Bangladesh, via Assam. Money from the trade was allegedly “distributed to extremist organisations” based out of Assam’s Bodo Territorial Region (BTR), such as the banned Kamtapur Liberation Organisation (KLO) and National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB), among others, police said.

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UP Police sources said the Banjara brothers were arrested in an operation carried out by teams from Meerut Special Operation Group (SOG) and Phalawda Police Station. Assam Police had earlier been in contact with Meerut Police to exchange information regarding Akbar and had visited the district as part of their investigation, police said.

Detailing the arrest operation, police said that during checking in the Phalawda region on April 11, they intercepted a truck in which animal carcasses were found.

“An FIR was filed on April 11 in connection with cow slaughter and the role of accused Akbar and Salman was found. With further questioning and development of leads, they were arrested two days later. The accused were sent to judicial custody. We informed Assam Police and they took the accused the following day. The accused had been on the radar for several cases,” said Keshav Kumar, SP Rural, Meerut.

“Assam Police had obtained a ‘B warrant’ from a local magistrate in their region, which was needed since the accused had already been sent to judicial custody by Meerut Police. The warrant was given a go-ahead by a magistrate in Meerut, and the accused were handed over to Assam Police,” said the officer.

Akbar hails from the Phalawda region, where his family has resided for more than 15 years, with his primary network in the North East and other operations in western UP, local residents said.

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According to data shared in the Assam Assembly last month, 29 people have been killed and 96 injured in police firing since Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma took charge in May 2021.

With criticism mounting against the state government over the “encounter killings”, Sarma had said recently that there was a 39.4 per cent dip in crime rate in Assam between January and March 2022, in comparison to 2021, and attributed the change to the state’s “zero tolerance policy towards crime”.

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In a separate incident in Assam’s Karbi Anglong on Tuesday, a suspected drug peddler was injured in firing when he allegedly tried to escape from custody, officials said.

First published on: 19-04-2022 at 06:09:39 pm
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