A senior Assam Police official on Sunday said that the banned United Liberation Front of Asom (Independent) has received a shot in the arm due to the growing public sentiment against the Centre’s move to amend the Citizenship Act, PTI reported.

Eight youths have joined the group since September 1, and as many were apprehended in the process of joining it, Director General (Special Branch) Pallav Bhattacharjee said.

The militant group is suspected to be responsible for the November 1 killings of five Bengali-speaking men in the state’s Tinsukia district, although it has denied any involvement. One person was injured in the attack.

The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016, was introduced in the Lok Sabha in July 2016 and aims to make crucial changes to the Citizenship Act of 1955. If passed, it would make undocumented immigrants – Hindus, Christians, Buddhists, Sikhs, Jains and Parsis – from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh eligible for citizenship. It would also ease the terms for naturalisation of individuals from these groups.

The state has witnessed violent shutdowns as protest against the bill. According to the United Liberation Front of Asom (Independent), the legislation “threatens the existence of indigenous people” of the state.

The amendment bill has given “a fresh lease of life” to the group’s activities, Bhattacharjee told The Indian Express. “The faultline between Assamese-speakers and Bengali-speakers in the state is a historical one and the proposed bill has added fuel to it,” he said. “There was trouble during the language movement of the 1960s and then were was some trouble initially during the Assam movement. But then it had subsided. Now again it has come up.”

In a “disturbing development”, a leader of the Dergaon unit of the All Assam Students Union recently joined the militant outfit, said Bhattacharjee. The leader, Pankaj Pratim Dutta, said in a social media post, according to The New Indian Express: “I have joined the ULFA as I strongly believe that only it can protect the existence of Assam and the Assamese people.”

The police are monitoring the group’s attempts to recruit youths from Tinsukia, Dibrugarh, Sibsagar, Golaghat and Udalguri districts. Assam’s Director General of Police Kuladhar Saikia said they were probing instances of men joining the banned outfit.

“We have asked officers in the districts and the special branch of the police to conduct an inquiry [to find out how many youths joined the outfit],” he said.

The sentiment among the people of Assam is that the bill has been brought in to derail the process of the National Register of Citizens, said All Assam Students Union chief adviser Samujjal Kumar Bhattacharjya. “The entire North East is now against the anti-people policy of the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government,” he said.

BJP MP Rajendra Agrawal, who is the chairman of the Joint Parliament Committee examining the bill, said the panel may submit its report in the Lok Sabha in the upcoming Winter Session. “We will try to accommodate all concerns,” Agrawal said.