Lone wolf? Kokrajhar attacker was probably an NDFB(S) cadre gone rogue
Well-informed agency and police sources in Assam claim that just one gunman may have carried out the morning attack at the weekly Friday market in Balajan Tinali in Kokrajhar.
"It appears to have been a lone wolf," the intelligence source says. This is perhaps why it was initially speculated to be a jihadi attack carried out by an ISIS-inspired terrorist. That's also because the NDFB(S) is not known to carry out such attacks. In fact, sources claim that the attack, in which around six Bodos lost their lives, has rattled the NDFB(S) top brass.
Even the Kokrajhar police is convinced that only one man, who was killed that day itself, was involved in the attack. "After corroborating different versions, I believe only one attacker was involved," says a police official.
The police believes that the attacker, Mwadan, is a known cadre of the NDFB(S), a banned terror outfit which is active in Bodoland. They say he was mentally unstable and suffered from a life-threatening ailment.
This claim goes against the other theories which suggest that more than one attacker carried out the attack that claimed lives of 13 civilians, beside 19 others who were injured. Initial reports suggested that 3-13 attackers came in on a tempo, lobbed a grenade and then went on to indiscriminately fire on the civilians.
NDFB(S) or ISIS-inspired?
Mwadan, according to the security sources, is a senior and committed cadre of the NDFB(S) from their 16 Battalion. "He joined the outfit around 10 years ago," says a police official.
His family, refusing to accept he had carried out the attack, has asked the police to conduct a DNA test. The results will be known later, but local cops are convinced that it was him.
"As soon as I noticed the dead body, from his features, his calf muscles, it became crystal clear that it is a Bodo and that his face looked familiar," says a cop who was among the first to reach the market while the firing was still on.
"Having worked in the area for a while now, I can easily distinguish between the many communities that inhabit this strife torn landscape," the official says. According to him, a mobile phone they had seized after an encounter where five NDFB(S) terrorists were killed had a images of NDFB(S) members on it.
"He was a known NDFB(S) operative active in the area," says the police official.
Once the local police was convinced, a senior official reportedly made calls to local politicians to inform them that it was not a jihadi strike, but an attack by the NDFB(S).
Initially, the rumour that it was a jihadi attack travelled fast all over the state. In fact, a few local Assamese channels claimed outright that the shooting was the handiwork of an Islamist terror group like ISIS.
The theories doing the rounds
While the investigation is on and combing operations have been intensified, there are multiple theories doing the rounds on what led to such a strike.
Police officials say that such a strike came as a total surprise and that they are yet to ascertain the motivation behind it. "It was a freak incident," says an official, adding that there was absolutely no intelligence to suggest that such a strike could occur. "Such incidents have happened all over the world, including the recent one in Munich. They couldn't be prevented despite the fact that the security agencies in those countries claim to be among the most advanced," the official says.
"Had it been an attack on a military camp, the popularity of the terror outfit would have gone up among a section of the tribals," reasons an official. "The way gunman fired indiscriminately on civilians including the indigenous Bodos on a busy market day would only serve to further dent the credibility of the outfit," the official explains. "Perhaps that's why the top leadership of the outfit is rattled by the strike."
Sources claim that Mwadan had contracted tuberculosis and had thus been isolated by the outfit. "After a recent raid carried out a couple of months ago on a suspected hideout of G Bidai, a top NDFB(S) commander responsible for the killings of Adivasis in December 2014, Mwadan reportedly went missing," a source says.
Another theory suggests that Mawadan was inebriated, which, along with a sense of desperation, may have motivated him to attack.
"The NDFB(S) is known to carry out targeted attacks on communities like the Muslims or the Adivasis. And even then their cadres do not wait for security forces to arrive. They attack and run," the official explains.
Mwadan, on the other hand, continued to fire for at least 40-45 minutes before being killed. His viscera has been preserved to ascertain if the gunman was under the influence of alcohol.
While NDFB(S) did not take responsibility for the attack, it later issued a statement saying that it was a handiwork of a cadre gone rogue. The statement, however, police say, looks like an afterthought. "They usually issue a statement as soon as they have an issue with their cadre," an official says.
A change of tack
This is where another theory comes in. After the government initiated the joint operation against them in January 2015, the NDFB(S) has been pushed to the margins. Several of its members have been killed in encounters and around 90 of the cadre, along with some 600 linkmen, have also been arrested.
"While the top leadership continues to operate from Myanmar, several of their top operatives like Bidai are finding it difficult to operate and have been known to move a kilometre inside Bhutanese territory to evade security forces ever since Operation All Out began," a source says.
A section of the security apparatus believes that the NDFB(S) may have planned this jihadi-style attack to shift the attention from them to the jihadi outfits active in the area. In fact, the Chirang and Kokrajhar police have arrested more than 35 people suspected to be a part of the Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh over the past year.
"The NDFB(S) don't want security forces to not operate North of the National Highway that cuts Kokrajhar into two, as that it is where they have a strong presence," an official points out.
However, this theory does not seem plausible considering the way the gunman waited for security forces to arrive before being killed.
The NDFB(S) may have also just carried out this demonstrative attack just to register its presence since they had been quiet since December 2014, a police official of Assam Police said.
Did the Army not respond on time?
At 11.50 am that Friday morning, when the first call came in to a police official informing him of the attack, it came as a big shock since no untoward incident had happened even during the recent elections.
The first police team, comprising of just four men, arrived at the market at around 12.02 pm while the firing was still on. The market is 12 km from the Kokrajhar police station.
Half of the team had been resting after a late night operation the previous night that had ended at 4 am, an official said.
This police team fired several rounds toward the direction they could hear the sound of gunshots from, as the Army jawans who were there already roamed idly waiting for a command from their seniors. The distance from the site of the attack to the closest Army camp is 11 km.
The police team, the official says, did not immediately risk going into a confrontation since "we were told there were as many as 13 attackers". "It would have been mindless," an official says, adding that how a couple of them tended to the injured, taking them to the hospital, and the other two continued to exchange fire with the gunman.
"It was only at around 12.20-12.25 pm, a good 45-55 minutes into the attack, that the Army came into action," the official says.
Edited by Aleesha Matharu