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Ulfa matinee blast rocks cinema hall
Blood on the floor of Paradise Cinema in Tinsukia after the grenade explosion on Wednesday. Picture by UB Photos

Tinsukia, June 9: Militants suspected to be from the Ulfa today hurled a grenade at unsuspecting filmgoers from the balcony of a cinema hall in this Upper Assam town, injuring 21 of them and reminding the state of the organisation’s ban on Hindi films last year.

The lights inside Tinsukia’s Paradise Cinema had just been dimmed for the matinee show of the new Hindi film Aan when the grenade landed on one of the lower rows of the hall.

An employee at the cinema hall, Dulan Das, said there were 203 people inside the hall, most of them in the stalls, when the blast occurred. Panic-stricken people headed for the exit, leading to a stampede of sorts. Slippers strewn inside the hall and a pair of broken spectacles told the story.

Seven of those injured were admitted to Dibrugarh Medical College and Hospital, 49 km from the town. The condition of one of them — an unidentified youth — is stated to be serious. The rest, Arjun Gunju, Sunil Thakur, Shibu Garh, Raju Sharma, Bhabesh Barman and Gadadhar Sonowal, are out of danger.

The incident is the second of its kind inside a cinema hall in Assam since the Ulfa issued a diktat asking people to steer clear of Hindi films, which the militant group describes as “perverted” entertainment. The first attack against filmgoers was at Simaluguri in Sivasagar district early this year.

Tinsukia superintendent of police Anurag Tankha said the incident that occurred this afternoon was clearly the handiwork of Ulfa militants.

He said the police had instructed all cinema halls to frisk viewers after intelligence agencies warned of the possibility of attacks inside theatres screening Hindi films.

Another police official said the rebels used a Chinese-made grenade. This was confirmed after investigators found the grenade lever inside the hall.

Army, CRPF and police personnel cordoned off the building after the blast as ambulances, their sirens blazing, carried the injured first to the Tinsukia civil hospital. Apart from police and civilian officials, an army team led by 181 Mountain Brigade commander Brig. Sanjiv Laumus, inspected the blast site.

The hall, owned by Purusottam Khaitan, is located barely 200 metres from Tinsukia Sadar police station. It can seat nearly 1,000 people. Though 37 balcony tickets were sold for the matinee show, only 32 were present.

The Ulfa announced its ban on Hindi cinema on August 7 last year, but said the diktat would take effect only on November 15. The militant group asked cinema hall employees to look for alternative employment in the interregnum. Several more banned groups did likewise elsewhere in the region.

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