The terror run in Assam earlier this month targeting Hindi-speaking migrant workers were carried out by a 30-member group of handpicked guerrillas of the outlawed United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) and all of them have now gone into hiding, a senior army official said on Saturday.
"About 30 ULFA separatists armed with assault rifles and other sophisticated weapons carried out the brutal massacres in eastern Assam after splitting into smaller groups," an army commander involved in the ongoing counter-insurgency operation said.
Authorities blamed the ULFA for the string of attacks beginning January 5. The ULFA has not claimed responsibility for any of the attacks. The orgy of violence spread over four straight days had left 73 people dead - 61 Hindi-speaking migrant workers, five policemen and two government officials killed in a landmine explosion, and five ULFA rebels shot dead in separate encounters.
"The 30 rebels were specifically chosen by the ULFA top brass to carry out the targeted attacks on Hindi-speaking workers," the commander said. After unleashing a reign of terror, the ULFA hit-squad dispersed from the scene.
"Probably they dumped their weapons and have by now moved out of the region or possibly mingled with the local masses making the task of the security forces difficult in actually capturing or eliminating those involved in the gruesome massacres," the army official said.
Elusive as they are, the ULFA rebels had managed to give security forces the slip in three past military crackdowns - the first major offensive against them being Operation Bajrang in November 1990, followed by Operation Rhino in 1991 by the Indian army and Operation All Clear in December 2003 by the Royal Bhutan Army.
Although they faced reverses in all the three operations, the ULFA still managed to regroup and strike back.
After the latest attacks, a massive military offensive was launched on Monday in Assam and adjoining Arunachal Pradesh although details of the operations were not immediately available.
"The operations are progressing as expected although you cannot expect to get instant results as we are going ahead very cautiously to avoid any collateral damage to the civilian population," another army official said.
In the last few days, hundreds of soldiers were airlifted from their bases using helicopters for operations in the rugged jungles of the two states. "The idea of the operation is to uproot bases, eliminate rebels or capture them. We have got some successes," the official said.
The ULFA have set up bases in Arunachal Pradesh, besides having training camps in Myanmar's northern Sagaing Division under the patronage of the SS Khaplang faction of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN-K).
The ULFA, formed in 1979, is fighting for an independent homeland in Assam with the insurgency claiming the lives of more than 10 people in the past two decades.