In the most audacious attack in West Bengal in decades, a group of over 50 Naxal rebels killed two police officers and abducted another one in the Naxalite-hit West Midnapore district on Tuesday.
Later, they demanded the release of arrested spokesperson of Peoples Committee Against Police Atrocities (PCAPA) Chhatradhar Mahato, 44, in exchange for the abducted cop and warned that they would kill him if their demand was not met.
Maoist rebels, who control large swathes of territory in 161 of India’s 625 districts, have killed more than 450 security personnel in nine states across India this year.
At 12.30 pm, about 50 motorcycle-borne Naxalites, many of them women, attacked Sankrail Police Station, 200 km west of Kolkata, and a State Bank of India (SBI) branch 100 metres away.
Dibakar Bhattacharya, 35, second-in-command of the police station and assistant sub inspector Swapan Roy, 31, died in the gunfight that followed. The rebels also abducted Sankrail officer-in-charge Atindranath Datta, 34 and looted Rs 9.23 lakh from SBI.
Four revolvers and six rifles were also taken away from the police station. Shortly afterwards, Koteshwar Rao alias Kishanji, 51, politburo member of the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist), telephoned various media organizations in Kolkata, including HT, and claimed responsibility for the attacks.
“We will kill the officer unless Mahato is released, or if the police take any action to rescue them,” he warned. PCAPA is a tribal organization that the state police say is a front for the Naxals.
Later in the evening Kishanji added a new demand that all the women prisoners in Bengal's jails suspected to be Maoists jails have to be released.
"If this demand is met, Datta will be released," said Kishanji. He termed Datta as a "prisoner of war" and Tuesday's action as Operation Goodwill. P Ulaganathan, sub-divisional officer of the district’s Jhargram block, said the attackers had taken away ammunitions stored at the police station. Not many policemen were present at the spot when the Naxalites attacked them.