GUWAHATI: Terror struck on the first day of 2009 in Assam where three serial blasts in as many hours triggered by suspected Ulfa militants left five
people dead and more than 60 injured in Guwahati.
The explosions took place a few hours before P Chidambaram flew in for his maiden visit as home minister to review the law and order situation. He was escorted to the Raj Bhawan from the airport under heavy security, past one of the blast sites.
Terrorists appeared to mock a heavy security bandobast put in place for the New Year in the wake of the 26/11 Mumbai carnage and for the home minister's visit. Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi admitted as much.
``There were security lapses. Our police force needs to be modernized and trained to deal with such terror attacks,'' he said, echoing something that's become obvious since the Mumbai attack.
Ironically, Chidambaram's visit was to review security to prevent terror bombings like the one in Guwahati, Kokrajhar, Barpeta Road and Bongaigaon on October 30, 2008, in which 89 people were killed. He was also scheduled to discuss with Gogoi cross-border terrorism in the state which shares a porous boundary with Bangladesh.
Police said the first blast took place near Lokopriya Gopinath Bordoloi TB Hospital at Birubari at 2.35pm, injuring five people, including a 10-year-old child.
This was followed by another explosion at the busy Bhootnath market near the famed Kamakhya Temple. Two persons died and about 25 others were injured. Police said the militants had planted an IED on a bicycle.
The third blast, which was more devastating, was carried out at Bhangaghar, one of the poshest areas in Guwahati, at 5.45pm. Dotted with shopping malls, the spot is located about 200m from the The Times of India office. Three of the 34 people injured in the blast died in hospital. Police suspect the bomb was kept inside a pan shop, whose owner suffered injuries.
``We suspect Ulfa's hand. Investigation is on. Forensic experts have rushed to the spot,'' senior superintendent of police P C Saloi said.
In its mouthpiece, Freedom, Ulfa said on Thursday, ``India wanted to dominate South Asia, ignoring the sovereignty of other countries in the region.'' It accused the Centre of ``equally suppressing'' the demand of sovereignty by the people of Assam, Nagaland, Tripura, Kashmir, Arunachal Pradesh and Kamtapur.
On the other hand, pro-talks Ulfa leaders led by Mrinal Hazarika and Jiten Gogoi announced that they had dropped the sovereignty demand in favour of more autonomy on the lines of Jammu and Kashmir.
A senior army officer had warned that Bangladesh-based fundamentalist groups could sneak into Assam and other north-eastern states fearing pressure from the newly-elected Sheikh Hasina Wajed government.
``We cannot completely rule out the involvement of such elements in Thursday's blasts. It's high time that state intelligence agencies became proactive,'' the officer said.
Earlier, Assam accused ``external elements'' of carrying out the October 30 blasts in collaboration with Ulfa and National Democratic Front of Bodoland.