|A policeman at the explosion site in the Chowpathy area (top) and the damaged truck. Pictures by Anirban Choudhury
Srirampur (Assam), July 20: Four persons were killed and 10 injured when two bombs planted by suspected Ulfa militants exploded almost simultaneously here today.
Among the dead were 4-year-old Monmoni Khatun and 13-year-old Mandal Sheikh. The injured include two policemen. The blast site is near the inter-state checkpoint on National Highway 31C, which leads to Jalpaiguri district of Bengal.
Police said the explosion was so powerful that a paan kiosk and a temporary counter of the Assam State Transport Corporation were completely damaged.
Dungar Dhar Hazarika, the subdivisional police officer of Gosaigaon, said it was too early to say the kind of explosive that had been used. “We are not ruling out RDX. But we can say for sure that there was no timer device.”
As usual, the Chowpathy area, only 4km from the Assam-Bengal border, was doing brisk business when people noticed a bicycle that had been standing in the market place with a bag on it for the past four hours. It was almost 10.30am and the police were informed. Just as the men in khaki from the Srirampur police station made their way towards the two-wheeler, the bomb exploded, injuring two constables. Abdul Majid, 22, and Munna Shah, 18, who were standing nearby, died immediately.
While one of the injured was admitted to Alipurduar Hospital, 44km away, nine people were first taken to Gosaigaon hospital. Seven of them were later shifted to a Kokrajhar hospital, where Monmoni died.
By 3pm, four persons were taken to Gauhati Medical College Hospital. Mandal Sheikh died on the way.
Although the 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 of Assam said.
The second bomb exploded in a truck at Damrapara Beltala, a kilometre from here, 10 minutes after the first blast. Nobody, however, was injured.
Samir Gurung, the driver of the truck, said: “I was having food in a nearby eatery, from where we could see the truck. Suddenly, there was an explosion and the petrol tank caught fire. Luckily for us, it was raining heavily and the residents of the area doused the flames immediately.”
According to Gurung, the truck has been waiting in the area for the past four days. “I was heading from Pagli Bhutan to Meghalaya and had stopped to complete some paperwork on sales tax,” the driver said.
Iqbal Hossain, an eyewitness to the first blast, said the casualty could have been more had some 20 passengers not boarded a bus a few moments before the explosion.
“They were waiting for a bus under a shed near the spot. They escaped miraculously. Munna was in a barber shop and Abdul was standing in front of it,” said Hossain.
Monmoni had come with her aunt Jamila to buy fruits from a vendor. Jamila was injured.
Reoa Reoa Narzihary, the Speaker of Bodoland Territorial Council, and Majen Narzary from Bodoland People’s Progressive Front visited both the spots.
“The blasts are the handiwork of some extremist group. It may have been the Ulfa. For the first time in three years, an explosion of this sort happened here. The aim was to spread panic,” said Narzihary.