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Bomb Blast in Jalpaiguri: KLO flexing its Muscles?

T. Khurshchev Singh was Research Assistant at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi. Click here for detailed profile
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  • December 14, 2006
    The recent bomb blast that ripped through two cars of the Haldibari-New Jalpaiguri passenger train on November 20, 2006 left the strategic community wondering as to who among the various insurgent outfits operating in the region was responsible for the heinous attack. Was it the communist rebels active in the province, or the militants fighting for an independent homeland of the Rajbanshis, the Kochs, or other ethnic minorities sheltering in the region, and were they acting at the behest, or in collusion with foreign intelligence agencies? It is a well known fact that many outfits like Kamatapur Liberation Organisation (KLO) operating in the Northeast region have links with Pakistan's Inter Services Intelligence (ISI). On November 27, 2006, the State Director-General of Police, Anup Vohra, declared that police suspected that the blast which occurred at 6:18 p.m near Belacoba station, in Jalpaiguri district of West Bengal, about 25 Kilometers from New Jalpaiguri and 550 Kilometers from Calcutta, had been executed jointly by several insurgents groups. The powerful Improvised Explosive Device (IED) explosion that targeted the second-class general compartment took 10 lives and injured over 70 people. A month on, nobody has claimed responsibility for the incident. However, the possible perpetrators include the Jama'atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), an associate of Pakistan's ISI, the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) the group with the most access to sophisticated explosives and experts on IEDs like RDX, TNT and PETN and most probable of all, the KLO militants who have been fighting for a separate Kamtapur state comprising six districts-- Cooch Behar, Darjeeling, Jalpaiguri, North and South Dinajpur and Malda--of West Bengal and four contiguous districts of Assam--Kokrajhar, Bongaigaon, Dhubri and Goalpara. The KLO, formed on December 28, 1995 with 60 cadres, is now estimated to have a strength of 300. Their areas of operation are Alipurduar in Jalpaiguri and the Siliguri sub-division of Darjeeling. However, after the arrest of its chief, Tamer Das alias Jibon Singha in October 1999, the organization was emasculated by a series of subsequent arrests and surrenders of its prominent leaders including the chief of the Women's Wing, Milton Burman alias Mihir Das who was also the second in command of the outfit, Tom Adhikary alias Joydeb Roy who was the outfit's 'crack squad' chief (arrested by the Royal Bhutan Army (RBA) during "Operation All Clear" in December 2003) Bharati Das, Chairperson of the Women's Wing, arrested from Jalpaiguri on August 7, 2002. and the outfit's operations chief, Suresh Roy, who surrendered on January 24, 2002. Even though the outfit's last subversive attack was, in 1999 when, in collaboration with ULFA, they jointly ambushed a train carrying soldiers to the front at the time of Kargil war, the ISI has been making efforts to rejuvenate the group and the Jaipulguri blast is, possibly, the first indicator that it is back in action. Its operation under the aegis of external elements, is an issue of serious concern for the Indian security institutions. Apart from the KLO's connections with its sister outfits, ULFA, National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB) and National Socialist Council of Nagalim, Isak-Muivah (NSCN-IM), it has direct external linkages with the Maoists in Nepal and JMB in Bangladesh, which has provided it with shelter and training camps. Reports from open sources suggest that, consequent to this, the KLO, ULFA and the NDFB have formed an umbrella organisation to coordinate their activities. One of the primary objectives of the ISI is to strengthen the feeble militant groups that are trying to revamp their organization in the region. ISI operatives in Bangladesh have perpetually tried to penetrate eastern India through their support of Northeast militants by providing them tactical advice, lethal weaponry and extensive technical training. On November 28, 2006, at a meeting with Assam Chief Minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta, PM Manmohan Singh emphasized the ISI's role in destablising the region and the nascent peace processes, stating, that outfits like ULFA are "under the grip of ISI". ISI involvement in providing succor to these groups had been brought up much earlier. In April 2000, the then Assam Chief Minister had detailed ISI involvement in supplying explosives and sophisticated arms to various militant groups in the region before the Assam Legislative Assembly in Dispur. Subsequently, on January 31, 2002, speaking at the Assam State conference of the CPI-M in Guwahati, West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya accused the ISI of using the KLO to engage in subversive activities in the region. In the case of the Jaipulguri blast, the kind of explosives used could only have come from sources with access to sophisticated explosives. Experts from the Central Forensic Science Laboratory, Calcutta have suggested that the use of RDX and TNT in the Jaipulguri blast is a distinct possibility, pending further investigation of the evidence from the blast site including a flattened container (in which the explosives are believed to have been packed), charred metal pieces and wires. The target chosen, that of a packed compartment on a moving train is similar to that of the Mumbai 7/11 serial blasts allegedly carried out by the ISI backed Lashker-e-Taiba, a Pakistani-based-militant group. It can be concluded that the KLO is the prime suspect behind the bomb blast in Jalpaiguri as firstly, the place of incident is under the area of their operation. Secondly, recent investigations have revealed that they have received ample material support from the ISI, which enabled them to carry out an attack of this severity. Security agencies should take cognizance of the growing involvement of ISI in the northeast and elsewhere.

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