Siliguri, Feb. 16: Police said they arrested KLO second-in-command Tom Adhikary and the outfit’s finance secretary Nilambar Rajbangshi today near Siliguri in connection with the blast in Jalpaiguri on December 26 last year.
Police said the two were caught in a place called Lichubagan in Phansidewa block, which is 35km from the India-Nepal border and about 25km from Siliguri town.
Since the blast in Jalpaiguri’s Bajrapara, that claimed six lives, these are the most high-profile arrests the police have made. The force had accused the KLO for the explosion in the heart of Jalpaiguri town.
After the Jalpaiguri blast and a gun attack on a bus in Malda, Bengal police formed a special operations group (SOG) to track down KLO militants.
Although the police officially said that the two were held in Indian territory, some sources said that they were caught in Nepal.
According to a police source, Tom was arrested from Bhadrapur in Nepal on February 7 along with Nilambar.
“Nepal police was pursuing a tip-off that we had provided them. After arresting him, they asked us to send Adhikary’s photographs. The identity of the KLO leader was established on the night of February 7,” said a source in north Bengal police.
As Adhikary’s identity was confirmed, central home ministry intervened because Adhikary is seen as close to KLO chairman Jeevan Singh, who is in hiding.
“Officials from the central home department and we started talking with Nepal police as India does not have an extradition treaty with Nepal. We requested Nepal police not to show Adhikary’s arrest in Nepal because had it been done there, bringing him to our territory would have been an impossible task,” said the source.
The Nepal government agreed to handover Tom and Nilambar. “Both of them were handed over to us. They (Nepal police) also gave us the articles found in their possession. Both were shown arrested from Phansidewa in Darjeeling district,” said another police source.
A news release by the Siliguri metropolitan police said: “Around 1.30pm today, the SOG arrested two KLO militants namely Tom Adhikary and Nilambar Rajbangshi from Lichubagan under Phansidewa police station, located around 30km from here. They are the vice-chairman and finance secretary of the outfit, respectively.”
Lichubagan is 35km from the Nepal border.
The police said the duo were riding a black motorcycle when they were intercepted.
“The motorcycle was seized and after searching them, seven cellphones and 50 SIM cards were recovered from their possession. Both were wanted in the Jalpaiguri bomb blast case and other (cases) relating to waging war against the state and extortion in all six districts of north Bengal,” the press release read.
Jawed Shamim, the inspector-general of police, north Bengal, said: “Tom Adhikary and Nilambar Rajbangshi will be produced in court tomorrow.”
The sources said after Tom and Nilambar went underground in the middle of 2012, they started operating from Nepal.
On July 27, 2012, The Telegraph had reported that the outfit, which wants a separate Kamtapur state carving out the six north Bengal districts and four of Assam, was reorganising and leaders such as Tom and Nilambar had gone underground.
The SOG had arrested KLO assistant general secretary Pradip Roy and the outfit’s deputy commandant-in-chief Narayan Roy on January 29 for their allegedly direct involvement in the Jalpaiguri blast.
The investigators said around 10 days before the Bajrapara blast, seven KLO militants, including Tom, Nilambar, Pradip and Narayan, had met in a hotel in Nepal.
“At the meeting, they planned three blasts — in Jalpaiguri, Malda and Cooch Behar. The Jalpaiguri blast was executed according to the plan. However, heightened vigil by the police prompted them to drop the plan for the other two blasts. Nonetheless, we are on alert as several top KLO militants are still out of the police net,” said an intelligence officer.
In the course of the probe into the Bajrapara blast, the police learnt that the KLO top brass had divided into two groups.
One group that comprises chairman Jeevan Singh, general secretary Kailash Koch, commander-in-chief Shyam Roy and some others is in the Northeast and Myanmar, where they are organising training camps for new recruits.
The other group included Tom, Nilambar, Narayan and Pradip and they were staying in Nepal. “They would enter India for extortion operations and other subversive activities. The SOG arrested Narayan and Pradip last month,” said a police source.
An investigating officer said the police had specific inputs that Tom and Nilambar had actively indulged in extortion as the outfit was desperate for funds to train fresh recruits and purchase better weapons.
“Seizure of so many cellphones and SIM cards from the two today confirmed that they were into extortion. The two will be interrogated thoroughly to obtain more details about the outfit’s activities and plans.”
Tom’s brother today said it was Nilambar who had forced Tom to go underground in 2012. “My brother was released from jail after obtaining bail and was trying to start a new life. However, Manchalal (Nilambar) persuaded him to rejoin the outfit. Manchalal, who came out of jail in 2011, used to visit our place regularly and would chat with my brother for hours. My brother stopped returning home every day. After some days, he left home on the pretext of work and did not return,” said Tom’s brother, Sashanka, who stays in Dhupguri.
Other than the four arrested men, the central committee of the KLO comprises Jeevan Singha, Kailash Koch, Shyam Roy, Rajeev Kotai (publicity secretary), Malkhan Singh (organising secretary), Lal Singh Deka (assistant organising secretary), Panchanan Burman (assistant finance secretary), Jagat Burman (political commissioner), Jibesh Koch (cultural secretary) Agni Bodo (assistant cultural secretary) and Pintu Barua (assistant publicity secretary).