“It was around 4.30 p.m. when we heard rattling sounds coming from the western side of our village. The continuous sounds of rapid firing advanced on us. There were about 40 of them, some in battle fatigues and faces covered with black cloth, and some others wearing khaki. All of them held weapons. They torched houses, fired indiscriminately at people and hacked those had fallen to bullets. Some people jumped into the river to save their lives. But the militants fired at them also. I just managed to flee the scene and snatched our old trunk and jumped into the Beki river. Holding on to the floating trunk, I swam for about 20 minutes and reached here,” said Rezia Bewa, 60, a widow of Nanke Khagrabari in Baksa district of the Bodoland Territorial Area District, giving a firsthand account of the massacre of 18 persons, most of them women and children, by suspected militants on Friday afternoon in her village of migrant Muslim families.
Ten bodies were recovered on Friday night and eight others on Saturday, some floating in the Beki and some lying on the banks of the river. The village is located on the fringes of the Manas National Park.
Moidul Islam, a Class V student, said a bullet whizzed past him even as he saw one man being hit by another bullet. Moidul was not able to trace his mother Maibul Nessa and five-year-old sister Jaigan Nessa till Saturday afternoon while he fled into a nearby jungle and stayed there until he was rescued by villagers. The villagers said more than 20 persons were still missing.
Kasem Ali, 30, who was home, first mistook the firing for gunshots fired by forest guards at timber smugglers. “Some of us ran towards to the forest camp. But more firing came from the camp direction. I ran to the nearby jungle and hid there and came out only when someone told me that the Army had already arrived at the village,” he said.
Fakhruddin, 52, had just arrived at the Bhangarpar market on Friday afternoon when he suddenly got a call from his 11-year-old son Sariful Islam that militants had attacked the village.
“My son told me to get back and save them. As I turned back, I saw the houses in my village across the Beki going up in flames. I jumped into the river and swam to rush back home. By the time I reached there along with some others, all houses including mine had been reduced to ashes. Bodies of women and children were lying here and there in pools of blood. I could find none of my family members anywhere in the village,” Fakhruddin told The Hindu on Saturday. His two minor sons were rescued by the villagers as they were holding on to a log and swimming in the river on Saturday morning. However, Fakhruddin’s 12-year-old daughter Alia is still missing.
Most of the male members of Nanke Khagrabari had been at the daily afternoon market here, about 35 km from Barpeta Road town in lower Assam’s Barpeta district, when the militants swooped down on their village. They watched helplessly as their houses went up in flames.
About 500 people, including 200 minor children of the village, have taken shelter in a relief camp opened by the Baksa district administration at Narayanguri Azadpur L.P. School. The administration also brought rice, salt, dal and mustard oil for distribution among them.