Suspected Maoists ambushed a police convoy in Damini forest of Jharkhand, killing a superintendent of police and four others and raising concerns over the efficacy of the government's counter-insurgency operation against the rebels.
Red terror struck again on Tuesday, this time in Damini forest of Jharkhand's Dumka district, where suspected Maoist ambushed a police convoy, killing a superintendent of police and four others and heightening concerns over the efficacy of the government's counter-insurgency operation against the rebels.
The style of the assault in the Kathikund area, about 400 km northeast of state capital Ranchi, grimly resembled the May 25 attack in Chhattisgarh's Darbha Ghat in which 28 people, including Congress leaders Mahendra Karma and VC Shukla, were ambushed and killed.
Pakur district Superintendent of police Amarjit Balihar and his men were attacked when they were returning from a security review meeting in Dumka, a divisional headquarter.
Five of them died at the spot, while four were wounded in the attack around 3pm, said director general of police Rajeev Kumar. The condition of two of the victims was serious.
Heavy rain coupled with broken roads and poor telecommunication delayed the rescue operations for more than an hour. By the time, reinforcement teams could reach the trapped convoy, the SP and his body guards had breathed their last.
No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack that was blamed on Maoist rebels, who have been waging a war against the state for the past three and half decades. Jharkhand is among the six states that worst affected by the rebellion.
When the injured were rushed to Dumka Sadar Hospital, 40km from the ambush site, there were no doctors to attend to them, the local residents alleged.
The doctors arrived only after a group of angry police constables from the police lines protested their absence. The injured were shifted to Dhanbad-based Pataliputra Medical College Hospital later.
Police put the number of attackers at around 60, who were hiding in the bushes along an unpaved road. Photographs from the site taken after the strike suggested 53-year-old Balihar and his men got no time to defend, or repulse the attack.
Besides Balihar, his driver Ashok Srivastav and body guards Chandan Kumar Thapa, Manoj Kumar Hembrom and Rajeev Kumar Sharma were killed. Three of the four personnel wounded in the attack have been identified as Santosh Mandal, N Marandi and D Marayia.
A police official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the attack could be in retaliation to the arrest of 31 suspected Maoists in Pakur nine months ago.
There were also suggestions that it was carried out by rebels retreat from Bihar, where paramilitary forces have intensified their operations following a Maoist attack on a train on June 17.
Balihar, a tribal with an impeccable service record, had joined the state police in 1986 and promoted to the IPS cadre in 2003. He joined as SP of Pakur on May 17 this year. In the past seven years, Jharkhand police have lost 243 officers and jawans in the war against left wing extremism.
The Kathikund area has recently witnessed a spurt in Maoist activities. In April, the rebels had torched eight vehicles of a road construction company carrying out development work in the area that hasn't seen development for decades.
Maoist attacks have been recorded earlier in this Santhal tribe-dominated area, but not on the scale seen on Tuesday. In 2010, they had killed two policemen, and a few weeks ago, they had torched eight trucks of a local company for not paying them money.
The union home ministry believes Tuesday's attack could also be aimed at helping the Maoists gain a toe-hold in Pakur district where they have a marginal presence.
That incidents of Maoist violence in this area are few and far between seems to have lulled the local police into a false sense of security, said a home ministry official, who didn't want to be named. "The Maoists clearly exploited this situation," he said.
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Jharkhand Police chief Rajeev Kumar said there was no prior intelligence inputs about the Maoist attack on a police convoy which left the Pakur Superintendent of Police and five other policemen dead.
"It was a sudden attack, there was no prior report," Kumar told reporters when asked whether it was an intelligence failure.
He said the SP was going with an escort after attending a meeting convened by DIG (Dumka Range) Priya Dubey when the Maoists ambushed them.
Kumar said four SLRs and two AK-47 rifles were looted by the Maoists.
He said anti-Maoist operations would be stepped up.
(With inputs from Bhubaneshwar)