Tensions escalated in Assam as Indian security forces launched a major counter-insurgency operation in the state yesterday, a day after suspected militants of United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA-Independent) shot dead five Bangla-speaking men.
The security forces are keeping a vigil on Assam's border with Arunachal Pradesh to ensure the perpetrators of the killings can't escape, reports our New Delhi correspondent.
Five Bangla-speaking people, including three of a family, were shot dead and two others wounded by suspected militants of ULFA-Independent faction led by their fugitive leader Paresh Barua at Sadiya Saikhowaghat in Tinsukia district on Thursday night, police said.
The killing took place on a day when the Supreme Court extended the deadline for filing applications of new entries in the NRC and allowing filing additional documents for claiming citizenship.
On Thursday, five to six gunmen armed with sophisticated weapons reached Kherbari village on motorcycles, dragged the five out of their houses around 8:30pm, lined them up on the dry portion of the Brahmaputra riverbed near Bhupen Hazarika Bridge and shot them dead, according to Prashant Sagar Changmai, superintendent of police in Tinsukia district.
The assailants fled the scene taking advantage of the dark after shooting indiscriminately at people, injuring two others, he said.
The five deceased are Shyamal Biswas, 60, Ananta Biswas, 18, Abinash Biswas, 23, Subal Das, 60, and Dhananjay Namasudra, 23.
Assam Special Director General of Police Pallab Bhattacharya said, “We suspect the hand of ULFA [Independent] or some combined militant group in the incident.”
However, the ULFA (Independent) issued a statement yesterday denying its involvement.
“We, the United Liberation Front of Asom [Independent], would like to make it clear that our organisation does not have any involvement in the firing incident that occurred on 1st November 2018 at Sadiya Saikhowaghat in Tinsukia district,” the ULFA statement reads.
The killings came a few days after a low-intensity blast left three people injured in Guwahati. ULFA insurgent group chief Paresh Barua claimed responsibility for it saying it was a warning to “Hindu Bangla-speaking organisations which are conspiring against Assam despite living in the state and are protesting against the National Register of Citizens [NRC] aimed at identifying illegal migrants from Bangladesh”.
Barua is one of the most wanted persons in India and is suspected to have taken shelter in hideouts in Myanmar and adjacent China.
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee condemned the attack and wondered if it had anything to do with the exercise of updating the NRC, which excluded 4.7 million people from it. The final draft of NRC was published on July 30.
“Terrible news coming out of Assam. We strongly condemn the brutal attack in Assam… Is this the outcome of the recent NRC development?” Mamata said in a Twitter post.
Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal also condemned the killings and said firm action would be taken against the perpetrators. He appealed to the people to maintain peace and harmony and asked all district authorities to remain alert.
Indian Home Minister Rajnath Singh also condemned the attack and asked the Assam chief minister to take strict action against the killers.
“It is a reprehensible act of mindless violence. Spoke to Assam CM Shri Sarbanandsonwal regarding the incident and asked him to take strict possible action against the perpetrators of this heinous crime,” he said.
Meanwhile, West Bengal's ruling Trinamool Congress yesterday held demonstrations across the state in protest against the killings.