The Maoist rebels who shot dead 24 policemen in the jungles of Chhattisgarh disfigured several victims' heads with axe blows and stripped the corpses of shoes and socks, police witnesses said on Wednesday.
Fresh details of Monday's grisly gunbattle in Chhattisgarh emerged from policemen who had survived what they describe as a well-designed ambush by rebels armed with AK-47 automatic rifles and mortars inside a hilly, dense jungle.
"Initially Maoists had fired a few shots in the air and panicked all of us," a police commander who was part of the 115-strong unit told Reuters by telephone. He wanted his name withheld because he is not allowed to speak to the press.
"Then there was a brief silence and we all thought that the rebels had run away," he added.
"But then all of a sudden they attacked with mortars and AK-47s."
Some of the policemen knew the terrain and fled. The rest were trapped, the commander said. Police blame a lack of back-up forces for the number of police deaths that followed.
The rebels, part of an insurgency which has claimed thousands of lives since the late 1960s, stole at least five AK-47 assault rifles and more than a dozen other rifles from the dead policemen, police said.
Police said they had killed and injured several rebels but were unsure of numbers because the insurgents routinely carry away the bodies of dead comrades after battles.
Combing operations were continuing in Dantewada district with larger back-up forces than before but no specific attempt to find the rebels involved in the fighting has been launched, said RK Vij, a senior police official in the area.
Police were still struggling on Wednesday to identify some of the victims' disfigured and bullet-ridden bodies, carried back to base camp on bamboo and rope stretchers a day after they fell.
The bodies would soon be returned to the families for funeral rites.
The Maoist rebels, also known as Naxalites, say they are fighting for the rights of millions of poor peasants and landless labourers.
They operate in a large swathe of India stretching from the east to some southern states, and focus their attacks on government officials and property.