|One of the night buses which was attacked in Kokrajhar district on Friday night. Picture by UB Photos
Kokrajhar, Jan. 18: Police have picked up eight persons and launched a combing operation for the militants who killed at least five persons and injured three in indiscriminate firing on bus passengers in Kokrajhar district last night.
Four of the victims have been identified as Rashbehari Giri, Prashant Behari Giri, Samsher Mantri and Papu Kumar Singh, all from Bihar. The fifth person has been identified only as Manik so far.
Militants belonging to the Songbijit faction of NDFB stopped four night buses coming from Siliguri in north Bengal on National Highway 31(C) near Athiabari Tinali under Serfanguri police station around 8.30pm.
Two of the buses bound for Shillong belonged to Seema Travels, one bus was named Puja (it was empty) while the fourth, bound for Jonai, was named Swapna. Its owner has been identified as Binoy Kumar Pathak but it is not known where he hails from.
“They asked some of us to get out of the bus and stand in a queue before firing indiscriminately,” said Anmol Gupta, a 17-year-old Class XI student, who was in one of the Seema Travels bus bound for Shillong. Anmol, who hails from Darshan Nagar in Chapra in Bihar, sustained bullet wounds in his right leg and left hand. “I fell down and rolled into a ditch,” said Anmol, who is undergoing treatment at Lower Assam Hospital and Research Centre in Bongaigaon along with the two others, Ramananda Ojha and Babulal Karmakar.
Anmol’s uncle, Santosh Gupta, who hails from Them Mawbah locality in Shillong, said his friend, who went to the area upon learning about the incident, found the injured Anmol. He said Anmol was now out of danger and would be brought to Guwahati for further treatment. But Anmol’s friend, Vikash Kumar, who lives in the same Shillong locality, is still “missing”, he added.
Ojha, 35, a resident of Ojhakabareya in Bihar’s Siwan district, received bullet injuries in his head and right leg. Karmakar, 38, a resident of Murshidabad in West Bengal, received injuries on his chest and left shoulder.
Ojha said he was travelling to Biswanath Chariali, where he is a priest, by a Shillong-bound night superbus from Siliguri when a group of 10 to 12 armed militants in army fatigues stopped the bus he was travelling in.
“The militants told the passengers of the two buses to get down. They were talking in Hindi to show that they were security personnel. When all the passengers got down, the militants segregated about 16 Hindi-speaking passengers and let the rest get back into the buses. They told the bus drivers to move on after which they lined us up and asked us to run. They then fired indiscriminately, killing five on the spot and injuring three. Police reached the spot after two hours and took the injured to the hospital,” he said.
Recalling the “nightmare”, another survivor, Akhilesh Kumar Singh, said, “I somehow managed to run and hide, taking advantage of the darkness”.
His elder brother, Papu Kumar Singh, was one of the five dead.
Md Rosa Ansari, driver of one of the buses, Swapna, which was going to Jonai from Siliguri, also had a close shave when the militants asked him to disembark along with the “selected” passengers. They later “ordered” him to drive the bus with the rest of the passengers. “They stopped the buses, got inside, checked the passengers and asked some to them to get out. At first we thought they were armymen as they were in fatigues and were carrying weapons,” Ansari said, adding that at least nine passengers were missing from his bus after the incident. From the site, Ansari drove straight to Sidli police station.
Local villagers said they heard “a frightening sound” and knew “something terrible” had happened. “We rushed towards the road and saw a person running towards us. He asked us for help. He was exhausted and shaking in fear. We offered him some water, washed his face and rubbed his legs with oil to keep him warm before calling up the police,” said Dhana Narzary.
Police and security forces launched a search operation in the area and picked up eight persons from Athiabari Tinali village, 50km from the district headquarters of Kokrajhar and 160km from Guwahati.
BTC chief Hagrama Mohilary and Assam transport minister Chandan Brahma visited the injured at the Bongaigaon hospital today. He asked NDFB (Songbijit) to restrain from carrying out such gruesome action and come forward for negotiations. Chief minister Tarun Gogoi has asked director-general of police (DGP) Khagen Sarma to step up operations to arrest the culprits. He asked the DGP to deploy additional forces, if required, to maintain law and order in the state.
Sarma, who took charge as the new DGP yesterday, had said Ulfa (I) and KLO would try to attack people of certain communities to trigger tension ahead of Republic Day celebrations.
The AGP and the PCC have condemned the firing. The AGP charged the Congress-led government with failing to maintain law and order in the state.
The PCC also condemned the killing its former secretary Niranjan Patra in Nagaon district last night.
In a statement, NDFB (S) spokesperson B.R. Ferrenga claimed the attack was in retaliation to the death of one of their cadres in joint army-police operation in Kokrajhar on Thursday.
The Bihar government today announced a compensation of Rs 2 lakh each for the four persons from the state killed in the firing, They will also be accorded a state funeral in Bihar, reports PTI.