| Hazarika being produced in court on Thursday. Picture by Diptendu Dutta
Siliguri, May 18: Four Ulfa rebels, including a leader of the rank of a 'commander', were arrested here last night.
The arrests have apparently thwarted the first attempt by the Assam-based militants to carry out terrorist activity in the region since the Bhutan offensive of 2003.
A fair number of Ulfa members, among other militants, were captured then, foiling several plans of strikes and abductions. The Ulfa had since regrouped, training fresh recruits in camps outside India, according to intelligence reports. The presence of the quartet ' including Ulfa commander Plabon Phukan, alias Mrinal Hazarika (45) ' in the city was a result of this regrouping, police officials said today.
A team of the central intelligence bureau, based on specific reports that the militants had arrived from Nepal, carried out an extensive search of hotels here. With the help of the local police, they located the four militants in two different hotels in the Pradhannagar area.
Several documents, an active satellite telephone, two mobile phones with Assam telecom circle numbers, an improvised pistol with a few bullets, Rs 20,370 in Indian currency and Rs 13 in Nepali currency were seized from them, the inspector general of north Bengal police, K.L. Meena said today.
Hazarika, the 'commander' of Ulfa's '28 Battalion' (headquartered in Burma), is from Dibrugarh and so is Mahesh Gupta (35), one of his three associates. The other two ' Jagat Baruah, alias Munu Baruah (20) and Pradip (35) ' are from Sivasagar and Tinsukia respectively. After an interrogation that lasted throughout the day in the Pradhannagar police station, they were produced in the Siliguri court this afternoon.
'We have appealed to the court for a 14-day police remand, which would help us interrogate them properly and come out with a clear picture about their plans,' Meena said. He added that the group had plans to carry out a major strike in the region.
Later, however, Kaushik Sinha Sarkar, the defence counsel, said the court has granted a 10-day police remand.
After the death of dreaded Ulfa militant Lal Deka on March 31 in an encounter with the army at Nizarapara in Goalpara district of Assam, Hazarika was put in charge of the combat operations in lower Assam, a senior intelligence officer said.
He was reportedly in touch through satellite phone with the organisation's commander-in-chief Paresh Barua and other senior leaders.
Hazarika, trained by Kachin Independence Army in the late 90s, was on the most wanted list of the Assam police for his alleged involvement in several incidents including the rocket attack at Thekeraguri oil depot in Nagaon district a few years ago.