A man with an AK-47 rifle sprayed bullets inside a court complex in Jharkhand’s Hazaribag district, killing three people, as a two-decade-old gang war for dominance over a lucrative extortion business in the eastern state flared up on Tuesday.
Gangster Sushil Srivastava and two of his henchmen were killed in the daytime shooting, while a police constable and a civilian were injured after the man riding pillion on a motorcycle opened fire.
Officials said the killings were spurred by the bitter feud between Srivastava’s syndicate and the Bhola Pandey gang, as they jockey for a bigger share of the pie in the trade of extracting protection money from coal merchants in the Ranchi, Ramgarh and Hazaribag districts.
Chaos reigned at the site with people running helter-skelter fearing further shooting as the three bodies lay sprawled on the floor in a pool of blood.
Hazaribag police superintendent Akhilesh Jha said the constable, who is receiving medical care along with the injured civilian, shot the attacker on his leg and he dropped the weapon but managed to flee with his accomplice on the motorcycle.
A witness said as soon as a police van reached the area with prisoners including Srivastava arriving there to attend hearings, gunshots rang out at the court campus.
“Within seconds, three people fell to the ground with blood oozing from all over their bodies. People were in absolute panic by then,” he said.
A large contingent of police personnel led by the SP cordoned off the area, while forensic experts examined the site and took the rifle in possession.
Officials said the gang war dates back to the late nineties when Srivastava challenged the Bhola Pandey-led gang’s supremacy over the extortion racket, as he started gaining the upper hand by offering gratifications to police and sympathisers.
In recurrent encounters between the two groups, Srivastava’s men killed Pandey’s several aides before eliminating the rival leader in a shootout on the national highway connecting Ranchi to Hazaribag.
Sources said at a time when it seemed the Pandey group had been wiped out, associates of his sympathiser and former disciple, Vikas Tiwari, pulled a surprise by “avenging” the killings on Tuesday.
“Prima facie, we suspect the involvement of Vikas Tiwari and his shooters in the incident,” the police superintendent confirmed.
Jharkhand police spokesperson S N Pradhan said the syndicates lure unemployed youngsters with access to arms and easy money. Even if the leaders get killed, new ones spring up to take their place.