Mathurapur (Sivasagar), June 24: A powerful explosion ripped through a bus in Assam this morning, killing seven passengers, even as top officials brainstormed with chief minister Tarun Gogoi in the state capital to find a way to rein in the outlawed Ulfa.
Police said the blast was the Ulfa’s handiwork, but doubts remained over whether the militant group had intended to target a bus, which it had never done before.
The explosion, the third in a fortnight, occurred around 10.15 am inside a Tata 709 minibus headed for Sivasagar from the small town of Sonari. Two youths boarded the vehicle off Sonari and are suspected to have been carrying the bomb.
The site of the incident is 28 km from Sivasagar, one of the major towns of Upper Assam, and a km from Mathurapur police station.
The explosion shattered the roof of the vehicle and killed four persons on the spot. Three died while being taken to hospital.
The remaining passengers — there were 25 people on the vehicle when the blast occurred — suffered varying degrees of injury. Three of the injured are children.
Only three of the seven who were killed could be identified till late tonight. The police gave their names as Probin Gogoi, Sarbeswar Gogoi and Mukhtar Ali.
The government announced ex gratia of Rs 1 lakh each to families of the victims and Rs 5,000 to each of those injured.
The driver and the conductor of the bus, Nabin Singh and Safique Ali, escaped with minor injuries because they were in the front of the vehicle. “The sound of the blast was deafening. I managed to stop the bus about 200 metres from the site where the explosion occurred,” Singh said.
Ali, who was admitted to a health centre in Sonari, said the blast took place minutes after two youths boarded the bus near Mathurapur. He recalled seeing one of the youths carrying a bag.
“We began our journey from Sonari at 9.45 am with only four passengers. Several people boarded and got off the vehicle between Sonari and Mathurapur. Two youths got into the bus near Mathurapur and I remember they had a bag. The blast took place within minutes of the duo entering the vehicle,” Ali said.
It has yet to be ascertained whether the two youths were among the casualties.
Army and CRPF personnel joined the police in combing the area for militant hideouts after the incident.
Sniffer dogs were used in the operation. Night curfew was clamped along the nearby Assam-Nagaland border.
Coming within a fortnight of two blasts in Tinsukia town, one inside a cinema hall and another in a crowded marketplace, the bus explosion has set alarm bells ringing in Dispur.
Chief minister Tarun Gogoi, who was busy working on a security blueprint with deputy commissioners and superintendents of police for company, said his government would not remain “a mute spectator to inhuman and indiscriminate incidents of violence”.
He asked the police to get their act together before militants strike again at another place.
Minister of state for home Rockybul Hussain and home commissioner B.K. Gohain rushed to Sivasagar to take stock of the situation. The chief minister will visit the Upper Assam district tomorrow.
Sivasagar deputy commissioner Gayatri Baruah and superintendent of police Debojit Hazarika were in Guwahati, attending the security conclave, when the incident took place.