Manipur-based People’s Liberation Army and the Manipur Naga People’s Front (MNPF) have claimed responsibility for the terrorist attack in which a commanding officer of the Assam Rifles, his wife and son, besides four personnel of the country’s oldest paramilitary were killed on Saturday in a welter of IED blasts and a burst of gunfire in Manipur’s Churachandpur district.

In a joint statement released Saturday evening, the groups said that the attack was ‘to protect our people’ and that they were revolting against the attempts to ‘suppress the rights of our land and the people’. The militants also claimed that they had not been aware of the army officer’s wife and son presence in the convoy.

“We are not going to sit silently till we get our rights and our sovereignty," they said.

Viplav Tripathi, the Commanding Officer of Khuga Battalion of Assam Rifles, a colonel rank officer, his family, and others died in an ambush on Saturday morning, in fresh eruption of militant violence in the border state blamed on an insurgent outfit. Tripathi’s convoy was targeted at Sehkan village in Churachandpur district.

The PLA was established by N Bisheshwar Singh on September 25, 1978, to “liberate” Manipur and demand “separation” from India. He had split from United National Liberation Front (UNLF) to form this group.

The group, which seeks “cessation from India”, is led by principles of Marxism- Leninism and Mao’s thoughts. It also enjoins Naga revolutionaries to join in its fight for Independence.

PLA is also a member of the Manipur People’s Liberation Front, an umbrella organisation of three separatist organisation of Manipur.

“The cowardly attack on an Assam Rifles convoy in Churachandpur, Manipur is extremely painful & condemnable. The nation has lost 5 brave soldiers including CO 46 AR and two family members. My condolences to the bereaved families. The perpetrators will be brought to justice soon," Defence Minister Rajnath Singh tweeted.

Condemning the attack, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the sacrifices of the soldiers and their families will never be forgotten. “I pay homage to those soldiers and family members who have been martyred today. Their sacrifice will never be forgotten. My thoughts are with the bereaved families in this hour of sadness," the PM wrote on Twitter.

The incident is the first major attack on security forces since June 4, 2018 when an Army convoy was similarly targeted in Chandel district resulting in the death of 18 personnel and injury to others. The personnel of the Road Opening Patrol (ROP) of the 6 Dogra Regiment of the Army were felled. The state that was for decades in the throes of insurgency was largely calm ever since.

On Saturday, Improvised Explosive Devices (IED) burst on a hill road, shattering the tenuous peace in Manipur, before the Assam Rifles personnel engaged the militants in a do-or-die firefight. Bullets rained in a torrent from hilltops covered in foliage as security personnel ducked for cover and fired from behind trees and boulders.

“Five soldiers including Col Viplav Tripathi Commanding Officer of 46 Assam Rifles have made the supreme sacrifice in the line of duty. The family of Commanding Officer i.e. wife and child also lost their lives in the incident. DG and all ranks of Assam Rifles offer condolences to the brave soldiers and families of the deceased," the force said in a press statement. Earlier, it had said the commanding officer, his family, and three Quick Reaction Team personnel died in the attack.

Assam Rifles is the oldest paramilitary force in the country raised in 1835 under the British rule. It is under the administrative jurisdiction of the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) but operational control of the Indian Army. The force eulogised the slain officer who had previously served in Mizoram until his transfer to Manipur in July 2021.

“During his tenure at Mizoram, under his able and energetic leadership, the Battalion has been at the forefront in Border management thwarting illegal smuggling in the IMB and hinterland. Battalion has also recovered several weapons & War like stores which could have landed in the hands of Anti National elements thus avoiding major casualties. “Col Viplav though his remarkable endeavour's has bonded closely with the locals of Mizoram. The Anti Drug campaign conducted by his battalion in January 2021 received several laurels and praise & the awareness was rightfully created by him in the entire state including the remote villages to ensure the youth are guided in the right direction," the statement said, adding his “goodwill for the society will last an eternity".

The Assam Rifles statement said it suspected that the insurgent group responsible for this massacre “must be from PREPAK cadre as the PREPAK remembrance day is celebrated on 12/13 November 2021".