GUWAHATI: With the Kashmir-based separatist outfit Hizbul Mujahideen making inroads into Assam, police on Sunday set up a Special Investigation Team (SIT) to probe the extent to which the outfit has expanded its activities in the state. The decision comes after the arrest of four Hizbul Mujahideen operatives hailing from Hojai in Assam over the past three days.

"The investigation is progressing very fast, but it seems to be getting bigger. I have set up an SIT and we are getting some vital leads," Ankur Jain, SP (Hojai),told TOI.

The trail began with the arrest of Hizbul Mujahideen cadre Qamar-uz-Zaman in Kanpur by the Anti-Terrorism Squad of Uttar Pradesh on Thursday. Upon questioning him, police were led to a series of Hizbul operations in Assam’s Hojai district. Within 48 hours, Assam police arrested three more operatives of the group — Shahnawaz Alam, Sahidul Alam and Omar Farooq, all from Jamunamukh in Hojai district. Qamar is also from Jamunamukh.

"Qamar had left home in 2012 to work at a garment shop owned by his relative in Kashmir. In 2017, he went missing; his family lodged missing reports in Kashmir and here,” the official said. The pattern is a recurrent one. Each year, many boys from Jamunamukh leave their homes and their families are told they are working with relatives in Kashmir or countries in the Middle East. Neither police nor the boys’ families know their whereabouts.

“The information we have gathered so far points towards the Jammu and Kashmir-based group’s attempt to find new recruits in Assam,” a top Assam police official said. Police said Sahidul was the first to be indoctrinated by Hizbul. He went on to recruit Qamar and sent him for training to Kishtwar district in Jammu & Kashmir. Having completed his “training”, Qamar visited Jamunamukh last month, but did not visit his family. Sources said Qamar was on a recruitment drive. After travelling to Guwahati, he left for Kanpur, where he was arrested.

While being taken into police custody, Omar had told the media he was “paid Rs 30,000 by Qamar to help him find new boys who would be willing to join the outfit”. He added, “I knew Qamar and what he does now. He stayed with me at my rented house here last month. He left because he could not find any prospective recruit.” Police said both Omar and Shahnawaz helped Qamar when he was here.

“Assam — with its long international boundary shared with Bangladesh, Myanmar and Bhutan — makes it a fertile ground for clandestine activity,” the police official said.

The state has seen the growth of a large number of radical Islamic groups over the years — both home-grown and from Bangladesh or Pakistan. In 1999, Assam police arrested four ISI operatives — the first such instance in the country. Over the past few years, the state has witnessed the emergence of home-grown outfits like Muslim United Liberation Front of Assam, Muslim Liberation Tigers of Assam, Islamic Liberation Army of Assam and People’s United Liberation Front, among others.