After a mob burnt down the Batadrava police station in Assam’s Nagaon district over an alleged custodial death, police on Sunday said the arson incident could have “terror links”. Opposition parties, however, said the incident was a failure of the police force and the BJP-led state government.
According to police, 21 people have been booked, including 14 women. Of them, five accused have been sent to police custody and an interrogation is on, police added.
A top police officer said a special investigation team (SIT) will soon be formed to probe the arson incident, while the alleged custodial death of the local resident, identified as Safikul Islam, is being handled separately.
According to police, Safikul was picked up late on Saturday when he was lying drunk on a public road. Assam director general of police Bhaskarjyoti Mahanta said, “Safikul was released the next day and handed over to his wife, who gave him some food and water. But, after a while, he said he was feeling unwell. He was then taken to two hospitals, where he died. After this, an angry mob vandalised and burnt down the police station.”
Local residents and his family members, however, alleged that police personnel from the Batadrava police station demanded a bribe of Rs 10,000 for the release of the fish trader. When he was unable to pay them, the cops tortured him leading him to his death, they added.
Mahanta indicated that such events prepare the ground for the “mujahids” to act. “The involvement of Ansarullah Bangla Team, a fragment of Al-Qaeda, cannot be ruled out in the Batadrava arson case,” the DGP said, adding that the fundamentalist outfit was trying to set base in Nagaon and adjoining areas.
“We have information that these elements are present in these areas. They are making all efforts to radicalise people. The modus operandi of the arson hints towards that. These elements were planning to carry out more such attacks; drug peddling is also common here. We are looking into whether petrol bombs were used to burn down the police station,” Mahanta added.
After the incident of arson, however, district administration launched an eviction drive against encroachers in Salnabori village, residents of which purportedly attacked and set fire to the police station the day before. The opposition has condemned the act as unlawful, but the authorities said those who have been named in the case have criminal history.
Mahanta further said an additional SP of neighbouring district Karbi Anglong, Prakash Sonowal, has been entrusted with the task of conducting an independent inquiry into the allegation of custodial death.
“I have seen a photo which clearly indicates that (Safikul) Islam was drunk or high on drugs when he was brought in to the police station. Technically, he died in custody. There is allegation of fault on part of the police and the independent inquiry will determine it,” he added. Earlier in the day, Mahanta had said the in-charge of Batadrava police station has been suspended following the attack.
Videos of the incident showed a woman sprinkling some inflammable liquid on two-wheelers parked in front of the police station and setting them on fire. The blaze engulfed the police station soon after and fire tenders had to be called to douse it.
(With PTI inputs)