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Islamic Militancy in Assam: Making Slow Inroads

POSTED ON 27 OCTOBER 2015

arunav goswami
senior research fellow, cdps

Islamist militancy appears to have become active in Assam’s Bodo-dominated areas in recent years. This has become evident after the clashes between the Bodos and the Muslim migrant settlers in 2012, and the killing of Muslims by the Songbijit faction of the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB-S). On 16 September 2015, police arrested three persons and busted a jihadi training centre at Number 2 Daukhanagar under Dhaligaon police station in Chirang district, one of the four districts of Bodoland Territorial Area District (BTAD). Based on the revelations made by these arrested persons, one of their accomplices was arrested on 18 September 2015 and eight handmade AK-47 rifles and two handmade Insas rifles were recovered from Daukhanagar. These weapons were all single-shot guns, which were imitations of an AK-47 and Insas rifles and used in arms training. Three videos — two on atrocities on Muslims, which are used for indoctrination, and one containing instructions on use of arms — were also recovered from the Daukhanagar training centre.

On 18 September 2015, two members of a new militant outfit called the Muslim Tiger Force of Assam (MTFA) were also apprehended by the Army from Gossaigaon in Kokrajhar district and one 7.65mm rifle was recovered from them. The MTFA was apparently formed to take revenge for the killing of minorities in BTAD. These incidents are an indication of how Jihadi elements are slowly trying to secure a foothold in the State.

Assam shares a 262 km long porous border with Bangladesh, a country that is a hotbed of Islamist militancy. Though radical Islam has not yet fully seeped among the Muslim population in the State, the incidents mentioned above and the arrests of twelve persons in Assam during November-December 2014 with links with the Islamist terror outfit Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) shows that there is an attempt at radicalizing a section of Muslim population in the State, a development that cannot be brushed aside as a minor security matter.

The JMB connection was established after an incident that occurred in West Bengal on 2 October 2014. On that day, there was a bomb blast at a house in the Khagragarh locality of Burdwan in West Bengal where two suspected JMB terrorists were killed and one injured. Grenades, bomb making equipment and jihadi documents were recovered from that house. The JMB, formed in 1998 in Palampur in Bangladesh by Maulana Abdur Rahman, was banned by the Bangladesh government in 2005. It is said to have very close links with Al Qaeda. Interestingly, on 4 September 2014, Government of India had sounded a country-wide alert after an Al Qaeda video had surfaced where the terror outfit had threatened to carry out campaign in India. The name of Assam too was mentioned in the video.

The National Investigation Agency (NIA) had taken over the Burdwan blast case on 10 October 2014. On that same day, six persons were arrested from Barpeta district of Assam for their alleged involvement in the Burdwan blast. Preliminary investigations revealed that they were part of a module operating under the patronisation of JMB. On 31 October 2014, NIA announced rewards for the arrest of 12 persons, which included the name of Sahanur Alom alias Doctor, a resident of Chatala village in Barpeta district of Assam. He was said to be involved with the JMB for over one and half years. He was subsequently arrested on 5 December 2014 from Larkuchi village in Nalbari District of Assam.

The arrested persons revealed that JMB is eyeing pockets inhabited by people of Bangladesh origin as well as districts like Sivasagar in upper Assam, where it is said to have motivated some persons. Sahanur Alom had told interrogators that over a 100 recruits from the State, mostly youths from western Assam districts, have undergone "training" in the Madrassas of West Bengal. The recruits were trained in handling guns and assembling explosives. According to the Assam Police, some top JMB leaders had visited a Madrassa in Larkuchi village in Nalbari and organized motivational training to induct boys from the area in order to create JMB modules in Assam.

Under-development and lack of access to proper education and healthcare services in various parts of the state, especially in the Muslim-domnated Char areas, are factors that can be used by fundamentalists to lure some people towards their fold. According to a survey done by the Directorate of Char Areas Development, Government of Assam in 2002-03, there were over 24 lakh people living in 2,251 char villages spread in 14 districts of Assam. The literacy rate among these people was only 19.31 per cent at that time, while the corresponding literacy rate of Assam and India during the period was 63.25 per cent and 64.84 per cent respectively. The percentage of people Below Poverty Line (BPL) in these areas in 2002-03 was 67.88 per cent, while in Assam it was 36.09 per cent and in India it was 26.10 per cent.

Another reason that many believe is the reason for increased penetration of Jihadi elements in the state is the unabated illegal migration from Bangladesh. This migration through the porous India-Bangladesh border has remained a cause of concern and it surely is abetting the influence of Islamic fundamentalism among a section of the Muslim population.

Along with security measures, therefore, it is imperative that the government also take steps for developing the interior areas of the state. Police has already made several arrests of persons with suspected Jihadi links in Assam. Their interrogation would surely provide more information on the possible spread of Islamist militancy in Assam. A dedicated development plan, effective intelligence, and tackling the problem of illegal migration in a proper manner can act as deterrents in the spread of Islamist militancy in a state like Assam.