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Ulfa focus on urban terror

Guwahati, Nov. 17: Ulfa has altered its training module and cadre profile to focus on urban terrorism.

With security forces in hot pursuit and the strength of its ranks diminishing, the militant group has switched over from “difficult and risky” military combat to the more damaging but easy-to-execute jihadi-type operations in urban areas.

A senior police official said Ulfa has been left with only about 800 “hardcore” members. This has apparently made the outfit more wary about exposing its core strike group to direct military confrontation.

“Ulfa is definitely facing a manpower crisis, which is why it is avoiding military tactics like laying an ambush on security forces. Planting explosives and lobbing grenades in public places, preferably under cover of darkness, constitute the new modus operandi of Ulfa operations,” the police official said.

Any militant group requires a permanent base spread over a large uninhabited area to train its members in guerrilla warfare. Ulfa has not been able to put recruits through such training since its camps in Bhutan were demolished during Operation All Clear in 2003, the official pointed out.

Ulfa now sends batches of recruits for a crash course in handling explosives at its transit bases in the jungles of Arunachal Pradesh, the Garo Hills of Meghalaya and the border areas of Bhutan. This change in strategy is borne out by the fact that Ulfa militants have triggered as many as 100 blasts this year alone.

The figure was 121 in 2005 and 103 in 2004. In stark contrast, just 37 Ulfa-triggered explosions occurred in 2002 and 2003.

The militant ground has also changed the profile of its cadre. The new generation of Ulfa members are not of the type who formed the core group of the outfit till the late nineties. “Most of the new cadre are school dropouts and continue to do petty jobs in urban and semi-urban areas instead of going underground. They could be working as drivers, bus handymen or conductors, rickshaw-pullers, helpers, etc,” the police official said.

This was confirmed by the arrest of a militant, Jayanta Kalita, by Udalguri police last month. Kalita, who took a crash course in handling explosives and arms and ammunition in Bhutan in 2004, had been working as a truck driver’s helper.

The presence of “overground” cadre means the militant group can get away with just about any act of subversion in urban areas. “After conducting an operation, militants resume their normal activities in the town or city where they are based, making it difficult for us to detect them. They do not figure in any database of militants,” the police official said.

Another feature of Ulfa’s modified strategy is to keep grassroots-level cadre distant from the organisational structure.

“Except for one or two persons who give them instructions, this new breed of cadre do not know anyone in the organisation,” the official said.

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