Guwahati, Feb. 4: Just when Dispur thought it had covered all its flanks for the Ulfa-threatened National Games, the militant group added a deadlier dimension to its acts of urban terrorism by using a car bomb in the capital city.
The explosives-laden car was blown to smithereens in front of the city traffic police headquarters at Panbazar around 3.15 am. The timing of the explosion ensured that nobody was killed or wounded.
The red Maruti in which the explosives were planted had been towed away by traffic police from a no-parking zone at Fancy Bazar yesterday.
The car, which bore a Tinsukia registration, was barely recognisable after the blast.
Police said Fancy Bazar could have been Ulfa’s target. “We suspect that the bomb was actually meant to go off at 3.15 pm yesterday. The timer may have been wrongly set,” one of the investigators said.
Senior superintendent of police S.N. Singh said casualties would have been immense had the bomb exploded in front of the nearby Shani Mandir, from where the car was towed away. “Devastating would be an understatement had the time of the explosion been 3.15 pm yesterday.”
Such was the impact of the blast that the steering wheel of the car was found lodged on the roof of a neighbouring three-storeyed building. The explosion also caused cracks on the walls of Mahendra Mohan Choudhury Hospital and snapped electric lines. Some vehicles parked in the area were also damaged.
The blast exposed lapses in the security arrangement when tall claims were being made about beefed-up security for the mega event. Residents complained that the car should have been checked before being parked in a residential area. Assistant sub-inspector Robin Phukan and constable Bhagaban Talukdar of the traffic wing have been placed under suspension on charges of dereliction of duty.
“Police are wary of checking vehicles because some owners have in the past alleged that things have gone missing after being brought to the police station. But now we have to carry out thorough checks,” the SSP said.
“Preliminary investigations are pointing to the involvement of Ulfa’s 28 battalion,” an officer probing the case said.
The original and subsequent owners of the car — Gunakanta Gogoi, Bulbul Gogoi and a middleman, Mrinal Gogoi, have been picked up from Duliajan in Dibrugarh district. Gunakanta, the original owner, had sold the car to Bulbul. Mrinal brokered the sale of the car subsequently, by Bulbul to its present owner Bimal Deuri of Mahadevpur in Arunachal Pradesh. Deuri is now absconding.
Assam director-general of police R.N. Mathur described the outfit’s use of the latest weapon as a “natural progression” in terrorism.
Security analysts feel it could be a human bomb next. “The use of the car bomb shows that Ulfa is desperate to exhibit its strength after the Centre refused to release five of its jailed leaders and may even use human bombs,” an expert said.
In Punjab, too, human bombs were preceded by car bombs.
“The LTTE is reported to have helped Maoist rebels to form human bomb squads for suicide missions and Ulfa has links with both Tamil Tigers and Maoists,” an intelligence source said. “We have reports that members of LTTE and Ulfa even attended a meeting of Maoists from several countries, held under the aegis of the Coordination Committee of Maoist Parties and Organisations of South Asia sometime ago,” he claimed.