The target and modus operandi of NDFB-S terrorists this time marks a departure from previous attacks such as the killing of Janjatis in Sonitpur and Kokrajhar in December 2014 and Muslims in May 2014
The brutal killing of 15 innocent people by five terrorists suspected to be NDFB (Songbijit) members at busy bi-weekly Balajan Tiniali market of Kokrajhar on August 5 stunned the entire north-east. The people ran helter-skelter for their life, while the killers kept chasing them, killing 15 and inuring over 20. The involvement of groups other than the NDFB-S may also come to light following the vital clues received by the agencies investigating the attack.
Except the ethnic strife in Kokrajhar over the past few years especially between Bodos and Bangladeshi Muslims in 2012 and Janjatis and Bodos in 2014 this region have been near normal and peaceful. Bangladeshis had hoisted Pakistani flag at a place near Udalgudi which caused the clash in 2012.
In fact, Balajan Tiniali market area has no history of violence. Even in 2012 and 2014 genocides, there was no violence there. A few hundred metres away from genocide place, the villagers gathered in large number ignoring rain and took turns in completing the final rites of three of the victims. On the banks of a rivulet, graves were dug for the two victims belonging to Nath community while a pyre was lit for Tapan Chakraborty, a Bengali Hindu. “They killed my mother, what was her fault?” asked Ajay Nath, son of the elderly lady – Posi Nath who sold betel nut (Tambool) in the market. There were six Bodos also among the 15 killed persons. Nebaran Moshary (Bodo) was in his barber shop when the terrorists struck. Four people in his shop fell to the bullets. Head of a five-member family, Nebaran was the sole bread earner. Around 15 km away, another family was grieving for its loss – the house of Manjay Islari, the alleged terrorist killed in the gun battle. His mother Guschan told journalists that Manjay had left home about 10 years ago and never came back. The fourth of seven children, he had passed Class X and wanted to join the Indian Army.
|Who is Songbijit?
When IK Songbijit, the then ‘Army Chief’ of the NDFB (RD faction) declared himself as ‘Interim President’ of new NDFB-S, he carried Rs 10 lakh reward. Not a Bodo by birth, he is a Korbi from Sonitpur. He is in Myanmar, while other top brasses camp along Bharat-Bhutan border.
NDFB-S is known for carefully choosing its targets on the basis of ethnicity picking their victims from among Muslims, Janjatis and non-Bodo Hindus while sparing the Bodos. This time it switched its tactic and target to pass off the strike as an act of Jihadi-terror. This time NDFB-S killed six Bodos among total of 15 slain Bodo victims while many Bodos were injured along with non-Bodo targets. This they did in a separate tactic to distract security forces and NIA from themselves and turn their (Army and NIA) attention towards Jihadi outfits that have been lately active in the region. NDFB-S (Songbijit’s faction) headed by Songbijit – a Karbi person is anti-talks who has been implacably hostile to a truce with Centre.
Kokrajhar : The Epicentre
The killing of the Bodos is seen as stark departure from its known pattern. “The target and modus operandi adopted by NDFB-S militants this time marks a departure from previous attacks such as the killing of Janjatis in Sonitpur and Kokrajhar in December 2014 or the May 2014 Assam violence that claimed the lives of 32 Muslims”, an officer of the Central Security establishment pointed out. A phone recovered from the pocket of slain terrorist showed up a number known to the intelligence agencies as the one in use by Christian dominated NDFB-S.
NDFB: The Genesis
“The use of masks and civilian clothes by NDFB-S terrorists points to the attempt by the outfit to project the attack as the handiwork of an Islamic terrorist group. It seems NDFB-S, clearly under pressure after an unprecedented crackdown by the security forces on its rank and file as well as resources over the past one and half years, was trying to mislead the agencies. “The purpose may be to divert the attention of the forces,” a senior intelligence official told media. Importantly, the attack appears to coincide with indications of rumblings within the NDFB-S with intelligence inputs suggesting that Chief I.K. Songbijit (a Karbi) is under pressure to make way for general secretary B. Saoraigwra (a Bodo). Both Songbijit and Saoraigwra are suspected to be hiding in Myanmar under the patronage of NSCN (Khaplong). The security forces have tight cornered NDFB-S over the past few months especially since they butchered Janjatis (Chai Bagan Labourers) in Kokrajhar and Sonitpur in December 2014. The NIA arrested 86 NDFB-S cadres from Assam and N.E. states, of which 63 have been charge sheeted. According to estimates the strength of NDFB-S currently stands at around 150 cadres now down from 300-400 a couple of years ago. Since Modi government came to power, the security forces have been chasing the NDFB-S terrorists. The continuous crackdown by NIA, local police and Army have hit the outfit hard in the last two years and their activities are under scanner.
NIA has launched a massive combing operation to nab NDFB-S men. Combing operation by police, para-military forces and army is also on in neighbouring Chirang district to nab killers equipped with specialised troops, tracker dogs and other advanced equipments. The army was also carrying out extensive area domination operations in the district to ensure swift actions.
The violence in Assam reduced during the last decade, however, Kokrajhar remains vulnerable due to its unique socio-economic conditions and geographical location. The intense competition for land, agricultural assets and forest produce is at the heart of ethnic tensions that fuel terror groups like NDFB-S. The national and international agencies with extra-territorial loyalty act as patron to divisive forces and their master instigator. Secondly, much has been done to restore normalcy in Assam. However, complete normalcy can only be ensured through large-scale economic developments. In this regard, actualising New Delhi’s Act Fast Policy of converting the northeast into a bridge between India and South East Asia is extremely vital.