GUWAHATI: As soon as news broke that heavily armed terrorists had attacked shoppers at a market place in Kokrajhar in Assam, local television channels closely following in the footsteps of their ‘national tv’ elders started reporting of a ‘jihadi’ attack. Jihadis, they said excitedly, had attacked the market and killed 14 civilians, and injured countless others.

The channels fell silent after considerable damage had been done, when it became clear that the terrorists were from the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (Songbijit) in what was an unprecedented terror attack in a crowded market town in Assam.

Kokrajhar has been a volatile district for several years now, with the NDFB(S) militants having attacked military and government targets, as well as Muslim and Adivasi villagers in the area in the past. Bodo militants have emerged from jungles, attacked and killed hapless villagers, and disappeared without fear of arrest or action by the authorities but this has been the first time that they have struck in a visible market place very close to Kokrajhar town, with sophisticated weapons and grenades.

Initial reports suggest that three heavily armed terrorists in Army uniform opened fire on the people, and also lobbed a grenade that damaged some shops. The police claimed that one terrorist was killed in a gun battle that lasted 20 minutes. An AK-47 was recovered from him while the others fled. It has also been the first time that the Army retaliated immediately, and ‘neutralised’ one of the 3 or 5 (the numbers differ) terrorists.

Assam DGP Mukesh Sahay has said the attack was carried out by the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (Songbijit), or NDFB (S).

Defence PRO Lt Col S Newton told reporters, "We suspect there were at least three militants and one of them have been killed. Army is searching the area for the other militants."

The Army has been carrying out a major operation in the Kokrajhar area against the Bodo militants for about a month now. At least six militants are reported to have been killed, and as many injured. In 2014, when a similar military operation had been launched the Songbijit faction attacked a remote Muslim, and later an Adivasi village killing with impunity. The Army and the police responded a little late in both stages,with the militants having made a clean get away.

The NDFB(S) is reported to have a cadre of 300 hardcore armed men, with Songbijit and the other leaders taking refuge in the jungles of Myanmar from where they continue to plan the terror attacks.

This violence marks a decided shift in the method of functioning, with the sophisticated weapons, grenades, army uniforms and methodology, according to sources, resembling a classical terror attack. The target too was not a remote village, but the centre of town that introduces a new dimension to the violence.