Tura, Oct. 7: Nine days after he was abducted, assistant engineer Waseem Ahmed was today rescued by Meghalaya police from North Garo Hills district.
Police said Ahmed was held captive by a Meghalaya-based fledgling outfit, the United Garo Security Force. He was rescued in a police raid on the outfit's hideout at Gabil village in North Garo Hills district, 35km from Resubelpara, the district headquarters.
"A joint police team from East Garo Hills and West Garo Hills districts has been conducting a coordinated rescue operation for the last five days. In the process, six suspects were arrested. This evening, the police got a breakthrough and raided the outfit's camp. An exchange of fire ensued after which Ahmed was rescued," inspector-general of police (operations) G.H.P. Raju said.
West Garo Hills superintendent of police Mukesh Singh said, "Based on the interrogation of the six suspects, we got leads on the camp of the militants and launched the operation this morning. However, we could locate the makeshift camp only towards the evening."
The police team reached the spot around 4.15pm. The SP said when the police fired on the militants, the rebels retaliated. "The firing lasted for about 15 minutes. It was dark and the camp was on a hilltop. Taking advantage of the thick jungles, the militants managed to escape," he said, adding that there were about six or seven militants at the hideout.
Additional superintendent of police Vivek Anand, who was leading the operation, said, "Ahmed is a brave man. While the firing was on, he lay on the ground."
Asked whether operations were on to nab the militants, SP Singh said, "Our priority was to rescue Ahmed safe and sound."
The police, however, arrested two militants from the village in connection with the abduction. They have been identified as father-son duo Sonang T. Sangma, 50, and Lakno N. Marak, 22. The SP said they had arrested the two on the basis of inputs provided by sources. He said the two were working closely with the militants. They provided them food, logistical support and shared inputs about police movement with them. The police also recovered a rocket launcher and an SBBL gun from the spot.
Singh said four police teams had launched an intensified operation to rescue Ahmed. "Our team is yet to reach Tura. Additional SP Vivek Anand and his team brought Ahmed to Tura from the spot." Tura, the district headquarters of West Garo Hills, is about 45km from Gabil.
Ahmed was received at the SP's office in Tura by his younger brother, who has come from Kashmir, and two colleagues. One of his colleagues told The Telegraph that Ahmed had joined the firm last year.
When this correspondent wanted to take a photograph and interview Ahmed, he said, " Aab mujhe chhor do (please spare me now)." He looked traumatised and weak. His green shirt had turned almost brown and his jeans were dirty and torn.
"We have briefly questioned Ahmed. We are giving him time to relax and rest. Later, we will elaborately record his statement," the SP said.
Ahmed, 25, from Rajouri in Jammu and Kashmir, was abducted from Samanda-Jengjal bypass, near Williamnagar, the headquarters of East Garo Hills district, on September 29. He was abducted while returning to Samanda, 6km from his construction site at Rongapgre in East Garo Hills.
Samanda is the headquarters of Hyderabad-based BSC C&C Construction Company, a private firm for which Ahmed works. The firm is involved in the construction of National Highway 44, which connects the Shillong-Nongstoin-Williamnagar-Tura highway. Ahmed was involved in the project.
The police suspect Ahmed's kidnappers belong to the A'chik National Liberation Army but are operating under the cover of United Garo Security Force. This was revealed following the interrogation of the six persons arrested during the course of search operations. Three of them, identified as Tinku Sangma, 28, Dilnang K. Sangma, 23, and Moktadir Hussain, 28, were apprehended from Phulbari town (106km from Tura) in West Garo Hills district on October 3. Following their interrogation, the other three were arrested.
Former chief minister D.D. Lapang, who is now chief adviser to the government, was at Gabil today, very close to the rescue spot, to campaign for the Garo Hills Autonomous District Council polls.
Driver abducted: In another development, a driver, Ardanath Koch, 37, a resident of Barengapara in West Garo Hills, was abducted from Doldanggre, about 28km from here, around 6 this evening. Koch was driving a Mahindra pick-up truck when he was abducted. The abductors left the vehicle behind.
"Koch was abducted at gunpoint by 8-10 militants from the Doldanggre reserve forest area," said Mukesh Singh, superintendent of police, West Garo Hills.
The Tura-Dalu stretch is notorious for abductions. More than 20 people have been kidnapped from the area in the last six months. In August, a sport officer from Baghmara in South Garo Hills was abducted on his way to Tura. The militants released him a month later.
In the past fortnight, the Garo hills have witnessed a series of abductions, including that of nine passengers from a bus at Wageasi in North Garo Hills, and central intelligence officer Vikash Kumar Singh and trader Kamal Saha from Panda near Rongara in South Garo Hills. Singh and Saha are still untraced although efforts are on to rescue them.