In a disturbing development, the outlawed United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) has adopted a new modus operandi in their terror strikes - hiring students and drug addicts to carry out explosions. <b1>
The fact came to light earlier this week when police arrested 21-year-old drug addict Kamaleshwar Das, who has confessed to planting a bomb fitted to a van on September 1 in a city market. The explosion killed one person and wounded 25 others.
"I did it for money... I now regret having done such a thing," Das told IANS while being produced in a local court in Guwahati. He had bought the van about a fortnight ago in the western Assam town of Nalbari and drove the vehicle down to Guwahati before assembling the explosive and parking it in the crowded Bamunimaidan market.
The entire mission was funded by the ULFA with Das being paid Rs. 8,000 for committing the crime.
Police said this was Das's third assignment to plant bombs in the city at the behest of ULFA. "Das is among youths who come from poor families and are being targeted by the ULFA to plant explosives and carry out such attacks by luring them with money," Rajen Singh, additional police chief of Guwahati told IANS.
"Youths like Das are ready to do anything for money and the ULFA capitalizes on such vulnerable boys and girls."
In parts of eastern Assam, the ULFA has managed to hire several young students for carrying out subversive attacks.
"This is a fact. The ULFA has of late been hiring students to trigger blasts," said an army commander requesting not to be named. Police arrested three students from different parts of the district earlier this year on specific charges of colluding with the ULFA.
"These students are used by the ULFA to carry out grenade attacks and other explosions in public places in return for money and things like mobile telephones, cars and motorbikes," the commander said.
In January, locals in the oil township of Digboi in Tinsukia district caught an ULFA bomber, Jolen Moran, after he lobbed a grenade, injuring a shopkeeper. Moran was later shifted to a hospital with multiple injuries after a big crowd thrashed him soundly.
"Interrogations revealed that Moran was a student of Class 12 and was staying at a rented accommodation. His entire expenses were borne by the ULFA," a police official in Tinsukia said.
Two of Moran's friends are absconding and police are on the lookout for the duo, both said to be ULFA linkmen. "We have arrested three ULFA cadres aged 18 to 25 who were working on behalf of the outfit in the guise of students; besides, the group was using some village youths as well," the police official said.
A study by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), a New Delhi-based security think tank, said Assam has surpassed Jammu and Kashmir in terms of civilian casualties in terror strikes this year.
Of the 604 civilian casualties in terror attacks across India between Jan 1 and Aug 3 this year, 168 were from Assam, followed by 124 from Jammu and Kashmir.
"This is a real dangerous trend with Assam now witnessing a new form of terrorism where militants or terrorists are striking innocuous civilian targets to get maximum mileage without really confronting the mighty Indian security forces," said Nani Gopal Mahanta, coordinator of the Peace and Conflict Studies department at Gauhati University.
The state has witnessed close to 50 explosions since January, most of them at crowded marketplaces, besides a systematic pogrom against non-Assamese people, particularly targeting Hindi-speaking migrant workers.
"This is a very easy form of terror to place bombs in crowded markets using hired people, and ethnic cleansing of the non-indigenous people located in fringe areas. This is nothing but indiscriminate terrorism bereft of any ideology," Mahanta said.