Kokrajhar: In Assam's worst terror attack since 2014, a group of heavily-armed militants dressed in military fatigues opened fire and lobbed grenades at a crowded market in Kokrajhar on Friday, killing 14 civilians. One of the attackers was also killed.
No group has claimed responsibility for the attack, but Minister of State for Defence Subhash Bhamre confirmed that the attack in Balajan Tiniali market, about 12 km from here, was carried out by a faction of the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB).
Additional Director-General of Police LR Bishnoi also told reporters that a preliminary probe established that the attack was carried out by the NDFB(S).
"The mobile phone recovered from the slain militant, who is yet to be identified, contains the numbers of many top NDFB(S) leaders and it establishes the outfit's involvement in the attack though the investigation is on," he said.
Bishnoi said NDFB(S) could have acted out of frustration as the security forces had stepped up their operation against the organisation recently.
"The Unified Command had also launched an operation in areas where senior leaders are suspected to be hiding and the attack may have been launched to divert the attention of the security forces," he added.
The police said that the militants, who were believed to be about five in number, came to the crowded weekly market in a van around noon and fired indiscriminately killing 12 persons on the spot and injuring more than 20 others.
Two other persons succumbed to their injuries en route to the hospital, they added.
Assam Finance Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma told news agency ANI that the Central Reserve Police Force, Assam Police, and other Paramilitary forces are conducting a joint combing operation to neutralise the remaining extremists.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi strongly condemned the attack and said the Home Ministry is in touch with the Assam government.
The dead included a woman who was yet to be identified while six others have been identified as Mazhar Ali, Salam Ali, Danda Basumatary, Moniram Basumatary, Parmeswar Basumatary and Tapan Chakraborty.
Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal denounced the attack and said the militants would be dealt with "very sternly".
Sonowal, who is in Delhi, said the militants would be dealt with "very sternly", a statement from the CMO said.
"We will not tolerate any threat from any group. The government will not bow to any pressure while tackling terrorist groups," he said, adding all deputy commissioners and superintendents of police across the state have been directed to be on high alert following the attack and in view of the Independence Day.
He announced an ex gratia payment of Rs 5 lakh to the next of kin of the dead, Rs one lakh to the seriously injured and Rs 20,000 to those who sustained minor injuries in the attack.
Describing the incident as "very unfortunate", Union Minister of State for Home Kiren Rijiju said in New Delhi, "Peace had returned to the Bodoland area and this incident has given us a shock. We will ensure that the victims' families are taken care of".
Home Minister Rajnath Singh was briefed about the attack by National Security Advisor AK Doval.
The security forces recovered an AK-56 rifle, two magazines, a Chinese hand grenade, 49 rounds of ammunition, three bags and a mobile phone with two SIM cards from the spot.
The Chief Minister said, "Ensuring protection to life and property of the people is the first and foremost duty of the government."
He appealed to the people of the state to exercise restraint and maintain peace and harmony.
Sonowal said Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh discussed the incident with him and have conveyed their deepest condolences to the family members of those killed in the attack.
Finance, Education and Health Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma tweeted that he was shocked at the barbaric violence and death of innocents. He also visited the spot later.
Congress chief Sonia Gandhi condemned the militant attack, saying it was a `mindless and dastardly` one, adding that the perpetrators of such acts shall be dealt with in the severest possible manner. Following the deadly attack, Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi asserted that this development was extremely worrying.
President Pranab Mukherjee and Assam Governor PB Acharya have also condemned the attack.
Tension prevailed in the entire Kokrajhar district with all shops and business establishments closing their shutters and vehicles remaining off the road.
This was the worst terror attack in Assam since December 2014 when the NDFB killed more than 70 Adivasis in Kokrajhar and Tezpur districts. This led to a major crackdown against the NDFB's "anti-talk faction", led by IK Songbijit, who carries a reward of Rs 10 lakh on his head.