Srirampur (Kokrajhar), July 20: Blood oozed from the chicken’s neck that links the Northeast with the rest of the country today when a bicycle bomb planted by suspected Ulfa militants exploded next to a highway bus stop, killing four bystanders.
The casualties in the terrorist attack at Srirampur Chariali would have been much higher had the majority of people waiting for transport not boarded an Alipurduar-bound bus minutes before the big bang. The blast site is near the inter-state checkpoint on National Highway 31 (C), which leads to Jalpaiguri district of Bengal.
Highway traffic was not disrupted as the road has two lanes.
Police said the explosion was so powerful that a paan kiosk and a temporary counter of the Assam State Transport Corporation were completely damaged. As many as 10 people were wounded.
It was not the first time that militants had strapped a bomb to a bicycle or motorbike and left it at a public place. Scores of people have died in such incidents across Assam since January. Only last month, a bicycle bomb went off at the police reserve in the adjoining district of Bongaigaon.
Jasmuddin Sheikh, the wounded owner of the paan shop at the blast site, said he was attending to about five customers when the bomb exploded.
“I was making paan when the blast occurred and my shop collapsed. Smoke was billowing from the debris around me but I somehow managed to come out,” he said.
Another witness, Prakash Barman, said it took a while for him to realise what had happened. “There was a deafening sound and we did not realise it was a blast until there was smoke all round and people were screaming and running to safety. Then I saw the blood-stained bodies of two of the victims.”
Barman has a medicine shop opposite the shed for bus passengers.
Two of the victims, 22-year-old Abdul Majid and 18-year-old Munna Shah, died instantly. A four-year-old girl, Monmoni Khatun, succumbed to wounds at Rupnath Brahma (Civil) Hospital in the afternoon.
The fourth casualty, 13-year-old Mandal Sheikh, died while being shifted to Guwahati in a critical condition.
Although police suspect Ulfa to be behind the blast, they are not ruling out the involvement of the Kamtapur Liberation Organisation or any of the fundamentalist terror groups known to be active in Assam, especially the areas bordering Bangladesh and Bengal.
“It could be a joint operation, too,” a senior police officer said.
About five minutes after the incident, the diesel tank of a truck exploded near a fuel station around 7km from the blast site. This triggered more panic in a town that bustles with activity round-the-clock because of constant inward and outward traffic on the highway.
The chief executive member of the Bodoland Territorial Council, which administers Kokrajhar and three other Bodo-dominated districts, termed the blast “an act of cowardice”.
“No outfit claiming to work for the people will kill innocent people. It is time the Bodoland people identify these evil forces and frustrate their designs,” Hagrama Mohilary said.
The BTC chief used to head a militant group, the Bodo Liberation Tigers, before signing a peace agreement with Delhi and Dispur.