On October 30, 2008, 88 people were killed and more than 500 injured in a series of blasts by gunmen in four districts of the Indian border state of Assam. It is the third worst attack ever in India, after the Mumbai bombings in 1993 and the 2006 train bombing in the same city.
Last month, a court in Assam upheld the life sentence of former National Democratic Party of Bodoland (NDFB-R) chief Ranjan Daimary for his role in the blasts. Four people associated with Daimary were sentenced to 5-7 years in prison under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act for their involvement in the bombings.
Earlier, in January 2019, a special court in Guwahati sentenced Daimary and nine others to life imprisonment for murder and other charges. A year later, the former rebel chief was released on temporary bail for four weeks to travel to Delhi and sign an agreement with the government.
As with previous similar incidents, there were many unanswered questions about the series of explosions. Still, interviews with police and intelligence officials and former rebels from Assam who have been based in Bangladesh for years have helped to connect some dots in the blasts to give us a bigger picture.
Misguided focus on Islamist groups
After the blasts, the case was investigated by the Special Investigation Team (SIT) of the Assam Police before being handed over to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) a few months later.
Ra. He told The Diplomat, “In the SIT investigation before the case was handed over to the CBI, it appeared that the ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence, Pakistan’s intelligence agency) was behind the blasts.” Secondly, there was a lot of planning ahead of the deadly operation which was effectively executed by the NDFB. Finally, there is an indication of the involvement of another militant group that was indirectly involved in the blasts.”
Even before the SIT began its investigation, the general assumption in the country was that the blasts were behind an Islamic terrorist group. A day after the blasts, an anonymous person who claimed to be a member of an unknown group called the Islamic Security Force – Mujahideen of India claimed responsibility for the blast. The police are also investigating the possibility of these blasts being in collaboration with the banned United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) and the Bangladesh-based group. Harkatul Jihad-e-Islami (HuJI).
The SIT has presented a blank for the investigation for two weeks. Another officer working with the group said there was “tremendous pressure” from the Assam Police Special Branch (SB) to gather information that would prove an Islamic group was responsible.
“The reason behind SB’s insistence on Islamist outfits was not difficult to understand. Some officials took huge amounts of ‘secret money’ as an alibi to fight these groups which were supposed to be rooted out of Assam,” he said. said the official, on condition of anonymity. “Even a fictitious list of five Muslim operatives believed to be involved in the blasts was submitted by the SB to the Intelligence Bureau (IB) and the National Security Council.”
Incidentally, the Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB), a border force deployed on the India-Bhutan border, informed the Assam SB about a possible terrorist attack by the NDFB a month before the blasts. A former SB officer years ago claimed that some of the areas targeted by the alert were correct, but the branch ignored the warning at the time.
The SIT’s first breakthrough came with the arrest Nilim Daimary India-Bangladesh border in Meghalaya region. He was brought to Assam with detention from Meghalaya, but the SB initially gave him a clean chit after two days of questioning. The story took another turn when the SIT interrogated him and recovered the contact details of some NDFB leaders in Bangladesh from his mobile phone.
From Daimary, the trail led to an NDFB activist named Thungri Bodo, who was based in Kokrajhar and whom the SIT believes had a role in the blasts. Bodo sensed the danger and decided to cross the Bangladesh border before being questioned. He was shot there for unknown reasons.
Fortunately for the SIT, Bodo left behind his mobile phone, which was produced in Kokrajhar in Assam. She released the numbers of other NDFB operatives, who were tracked down and arrested within weeks.
Even as more details were released, the case was handed over to the Central Bureau of Investigation. Apparently, many senior officials of several ministries in New Delhi and Assam – including the state chief, Tarun Gogoi – did not believe that the NDFB could be involved in the blasts.
Insurgent groups have never used such a number of explosives in the past. The strength of the blasts can be gauged from forensic tests, which revealed that around 25-30 kilograms of RDX was used in each car bomb in Guwahati along with ammonium nitrate as a propellant.
Finally, the CBI investigation confirmed almost all the details of the blasts that had been collected earlier by the SIT. The office charged 22 people; Seven of them (including Thungri Bodo) were declared absconders. NDFB chief Ranjan Daimary handed over Bangladesh to India in 2010 after he was arrested in Dhaka. He was supposed to have kept his mouth shut about the sequence of events that led to the explosions or the reasons that prompted him to carry out the operation.
ISI claims Participation
Some explain the motives behind the attack by pointing to the involvement of Pakistan’s intelligence agency – perhaps the unauthorized involvement of “rogue” actors.
Chandranathan’s claims about ISI involvement were corroborated by other intelligence officials, who blamed “unscrupulous elements” in the ISI who resented the appointment of Ahmad Shuja Pasha as the agency’s chief. Pasha’s opponents are thought to be unhappy with the policies of the Bangladesh-backed military regime against the radical Islamist outfit and its growing animosity with New Delhi.
“Several operations were planned by a section of the ISI with the aim of discrediting Pasha, three of which were carried out within a short span of less than two months,” said an official. In addition to the Assam attack, he was referring to the October 1 serial blasts in Agartala, Tripura, another state in Northeast India that borders Assam and Bangladesh, and the Mumbai terror attacks in November. 26, executed less than a month later. attack in Assam.
Incidentally, years later, Pasha was quoted in a book written by a former director of the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) as saying that some “retired members” of the ISI were engaged in training terrorists for the Mumbai operation. .
In Bangladesh, preparations for the blasts apparently began almost four months ago when the All Tripura Tiger Force (ATTF) and the NDFB were linked to the ISI in operations. Officials of the Indian government said that several rounds of meetings were held between the ISI and the representatives of these rebel groups to improve the plan of attacks carried out in different places in India.
Officials believed that another insurgent group from Northeast India with a presence in Bangladesh was involved in helping the ISI to recruit ATTF and NDFB for deadly operations.
Kuldeep Kumar was a senior police officer in Tripura during the Agartala serial blasts in which 76 people were injured. In his book “Police and Combat: The Untold Story of Tripura’s COIN Campaign,” he writes, “The State CID (Criminal Investigation Department) successfully cracked the case in less than 3 months with many arrests. of the local ATTF militants and their aides and exposed the role of other groups in the north east and some foreign agencies in this case.”
ATTF was very weak and the area of influence in Tripura was very limited to trigger blasts in many places. They may have been given weapons and money to plant bombs in Agartala. The ISI emphasized on equipping the NDFB with the necessary logistics and support as the operation could have a major impact on Assam due to its scale and importance.
There are different theories explaining the decision of the NDFB’s Ranjan Daimary group in Bangladesh to plant bombs in Assam. Some government officials said Daimary was “forced” by the ISI and a Pakistani-backed group of the Directorate General of Military Intelligence (Bangladesh’s foreign intelligence agency) to take part in the operation. He may be threatened with arrest and deportation back to India if he refuses the offer.
A second theory suggests that Daimary was upset with the Assam-based NDFB faction, headed by Govinda Basumatary, who decided to enter into talks with the Indian government. Daimary was thought to have wanted to send a strong message to the government that the peace process cannot be started without his consent and participation.
Some of the former rebels from Northeast India, now based in Bangladesh, felt that a number of factors had led the NDFB team to dare the operation. One objective was the hope that the ISI’s assistance would help revive the garment’s struggling fortunes, which were already struggling for survival.
We may never know any of these theories to be true. In 2016, I interviewed Ranjan Daimary at his residence in Udalguri in Assam after the court granted him bail. Daimary narrates in incredible detail how arms are procured from Bangladesh, NDFB’s relationship with other rebel groups, and how camps are maintained in the Chittagong Hill Tracts of the country. But he kept mum on the successive blasts in Assam.