Calcutta, Dec. 5: An arms consignment from Bangladesh, heading towards Calcutta, was suspected to have arrived in the Sundarbans last night.
Border Security Force and Central intelligence officials here said they did not notice “anything” at Chhoto Mollakhali, one among the cluster of islands under “special focus” of intelligence agencies following reports of heightened anti-national activities.
But villagers, who say they saw the weapons being moved from a Bangladeshi fishing trawler to an Indian vessel not very far from the coast, said the transfer started just before 10.30 pm and was over in minutes.
The Bangladeshi trawler, possibly alerted by agents here, chose not to dock at Chhoto Mollakhali as was originally planned. Only the Indian vessel returned to shore with three boxes — two believed to contain assault rifles and another a significant quantity of explosives. The Bangladeshi trawler stayed a little distance from the coastline.
Witnesses said the cache was again transferred to a small fishing boat that, according to reports reaching here, sailed for Sonakhali. A light commercial vehicle — the type used to ferry fish from the region to Calcutta and places near it — was waiting. The truck drove off northwards, probably towards Calcutta, around midnight with the boxes, the sources said.
But both BSF and Central intelligence agencies said they did not notice anything unusual along the coastline at Chhoto Mollakhali. “Our men maintained a very strict vigil but failed to intercept any Bangladeshi vessel,” a senior BSF official said.
Villagers insisted that they did not notice any “unusual or heightened” BSF activity in and around Chhoto Mollakhali last night despite BSF officials going on record about “tip-offs” that an arms consignment was heading to the island and would reach between 10 pm and midnight. Intelligence officials pointed out that “tip-offs” passed on to the BSF often go unattended.
The shipment, according to reports with the BSF, originated in Malaysia. It arrived here after a journey by sea to Chittagong and then by land to a port close to the Indo-Bangladesh border.
Intelligence agencies have, for some time, been reporting the influx of arms and heightened subversive activities in the area extending from the Indo-Bangladesh border in the east to Jambudweep in the west and the Bay of Bengal coastline in the south to Hingalganj and Sandeshkhali deep inside North 24-Parganas.
Extremist outfits, linked to the CPI(M-L) People’s War but often working from within the ranks of Left Front constituents, and ISI agents have taken advantage of the gaping holes in the BSF and Coast Guard net, the reports submitted to the Union home ministry and the state home department have suggested.
Jacobnagar used to be the favoured spot of arms-transfers like the one last night, officials said. But with the number of tigers straying into villages in and around Chhoto Mollakhali increasing of late, insurgents and smugglers have shifted their activity to these places.
“Villagers, because of the reports of intrusion by tigers, tend to stay inside after darkness and the subversive elements are taking advantage of this,” a Union home ministry official said, adding that the increased BSF presence at Jacobnagar had also induced them to shift.