Three bombs exploded in the space of three hours as Home Minister P. Chidambaram arrived in Guwahati. By late evening, five people had died and 35 were battling grievous injuries.
The last of the bombs exploded around 5.40 pm, about an hour before Chidambaram landed. The second bomb went off at Bhootnath, on the road the Home Minister took from the airport to the city. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is scheduled to arrive in Guwahati on Friday or Saturday en route to Shillong to inaugurate the Indian Science Congress, which President Pratibha Patil too will attend.
The first attack of 2009, besides coming on the year’s first day and coinciding with VIP visits, followed a significant split in the outlawed United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA). The A and C companies of ULFA’s 28th Battalion broke away from the parent outfit earlier today, and declared itself to be the “pro-talk ULFA group”.
Sheikh Hasina’s victory in Bangladesh’s national elections too is bad news for ULFA. A day after winning the historic landslide, Hasina said she would not allow Bangladesh soil to be used for anti-India activities.
“We believe the blasts are the handiwork of ULFA. We had inputs that some members of ULFA’s 709 Battalion have sneaked into the city over the past few days. We have been on their trail for quite some time,” G M Srivastava, who took over as Assam DGP after the October 30 serial blasts, said.
At least 90 people were killed and over 300 injured in deadly bombings of Guwahati and four other Assam towns which police said were carried out by the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB).
The first of today’s explosions took place at Birubari around 2.35 pm. It was followed by blasts at Bhootnath at 4.15 pm and at Bhangagarh around 5.40 pm. Improvised explosive devices (IEDs) were used, G P Singh, DIG, Guwahai range, said.
The Birubari bomb had been put in a Guwahati Municipal Corporation garbage vat. The Bhootnath bomb was placed on a cycle. The Bhangagarh explosion took place in a busy vegetable market, barely 200 metres from the Guwahati Medical College Hospital.
The dead have been identified as Amal Das, Kahin Sheikh (victims of the Bhangagarh blast), Jitu Salam, Nessar Ali and Arifa Begum (victims of the Bhootnath bomb). Doctors said they expected the toll to go up during the night.
Both the police and the government said they knew the attack was coming.
DGP Srivastava said it was “because of our pressure that they could not cause a larger disaster”. Chief minister Tarun Gogoi said: “It is not that we did not have prior information. We had inputs, and it was because of steps taken that the impact was less.” Assam government spokesman and state Health Minister Himanta Biswa Sharma said the government had inputs that ULFA had planned six to seven blasts in the city around New Year’s Day. “We had small inputs. One group of ULFA militants had in fact identified 6-7 spots to carry out the explosions. But the police could foil most of their attempts. There will be no more blasts today,” Sharma said. “We have identified some of the culprits. We will arrest them, we are going to punish them,” he added.