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15 commandos, driver killed in blast by Maoists in Maharashtra’s Gadchiroli

Just when the two vehicles of the security forces were passing through the Dadapur Road in Gadchiroli, Maoists triggered the explosion.

india Updated: May 02, 2019 00:58 IST
Pradip Kumar Maitra
Pradip Kumar Maitra
Hindustan Times, Nagpur
Maoists,Gadchiroli,maoists
The improvised explosive device (IED) blast in Gadchiroli targeted a vehicle carrying security personnel. (HT Photo)

Maoist rebels triggered an improvised explosive device (IED) on Wednesday, blowing up a vehicle carrying crack C-60 commandos in Maharashtra’s Gadchiroli district, killing 15 of them and the driver in the deadliest attack on security forces in five years in the state.

The attack was believed to be in reprisal for the killing of 40 rebels by C-60 troopers a year ago.

Rebels suspected to be members of the Communist Party of India (Maoist), or CPI (Maoist), detonated the device on Dadapur road near the village of Jambhurkheda in Gadchiroli, some 250 kilometres from Nagpur, bordering Chhattisgarh.

The explosion, condemned by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Congress president Rahul Gandhi amid ongoing general elections, took place at about 11.30 pm on Maharashtra Day, almost 10 hours after Maoists allegedly torched three dozen vehicles engaged in road widening and construction work in Gadchiroli’s Kurkheda area.

After burning the vehicles, the rebels put up posters to mark a week-long protest on the first anniversary of the killing of the 40 suspected Maoists by C-60 commandoes in the district on April 22, 2018.

Two senior CPI (Maoist) leaders, Srinu alias Srikanth and Sainath alias Dolesh Madhi Atram, were among those killed in the encounter. The shootout followed the killing of at least half-a-dozen villagers by Maoists who suspected them of being police informants.

The distance between the places where the IED was detonated and the vehicles torched is about 25 kilometres, the police said. How powerful the blast was can be gauged from the fact that the vehicle carrying the commandos was reduced to a mangled wreck. After triggering the blast, the suspected Maoists, lying in ambush, opened indiscriminate fire before fleeing.

According to the police, the explosion took place when the commandos were on their way to conduct a search in the area where the vehicles had been burnt. The police said no official vehicle was available so the men travelled on a private one on the orders of sub-divisional police officer (Kurkheda), Shailesh Kale.

No advance road clearance party including an anti-landmine vehicle was sent ahead of the C-60 team to clear the road for them, as is the typical practice, a police officer, who didn’t want to be identified, said.

A home ministry official, who did not wish to be named, said anti-Maoist forces in the stat have been asked to intensify operations. A combing operation in Maoist-affected areas was launched after the attack.

An initial analysis indicated that standard procedure was not completely followed. “Yesterday’s attack [in which vehicles were torched] was meant to lure the forces,” another official said. “Our inputs indicate the Maoist group that carried out the strike is about 40 strong,” he said on condition of anonymity. Union home secretary Rajiv Gauba had written to top officials in Left Wing Extremism-hit states two months ago to ensure standard operating procedure was being followed.

As the vehicle carrying the commandos took the Dadapur Road on their way towards Korchi, bordering Chhattisgarh, the Maoists triggered the IED blast, killing all the occupants.

“As the police top brass learnt about the blast, reinforcements were rushed to the spot immediately. We have cordoned off the area and a massive search operation is on to nab the Maoists,” said Ankush Shinde, the deputy inspector general of police (DIG), Gadchiroli.

Maharashtra’s director general of police Subodh Kumar Jaiswal said an inquiry had been ordered to probe if any lapses had taken place.

“We are moving tactically considering that it is a forest area and also the local terrain. Many times it is seen that Naxalites trigger another blast or lay the second ambush following the first one. Considering it, we have to move tactically,” said the DGP.

Chhattisgarh director general of police DM Awasthi said some Maoist reinforcements had been sent from Bastar to the Chhattisgarh-Maharashtra border during the rebels’ annual tactical counter offensive campaign called TCOC . “We fear that the attack was a joint operation by rebels in the two states to inflict maximum damage,” he said.

Wednesday’s assault is the latest in a string of attacks staged by the rebels since March, when the TCOC starts. On April 9, BJP MLA Bheema Mandavi, along with five police personnel, was killed by Maoists in an IED blast in Chhattisgarh’s Dantewada. On April 10, a CRPF jawan was injured in an IED blast in Gadchiroli and on polling day on April 11, an IED was detonated near a voting booth in Gadchiroli in which no one was injured.

Watch | At least 16 jawans killed in IED blast by Maoists in Maharashtra’s Gadchiroli

Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar sought the resignation of Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadanavis after the attack. West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee accused the Bharatiya Janata Party government of failing to control Maoism in the states ruled by it. Fadnavis said the state police was prepared to give a fitting reply to left-wing extremists.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi condemned the attack. “I salute all the brave personnel. Their sacrifices will never be forgotten. My thoughts and solidarity are with the bereaved families. The perpetrators of such violence will not be spared,” he tweeted. Congress president Rahul Gandhi said he was saddened by attack on security forces by Maoists. “I express my deep condolences to the families of the victims,” he tweeted.

Union home minister Rajnath Singh described the attack on the Maharashtra police commandos as “an act of cowardice and desperation”. “We are extremely proud of the valour of our police personnel. Their supreme sacrifice while serving the nation will not go in vain. My deepest condolences to their families,” Singh tweeted.

(With inputs from Ritesh Mishra in Raipur and Sudhi Ranjan Sen in New Delhi)

Also read: BJP legislator, 4 security personnel killed in Maoist attack in Dantewada

First Published: May 01, 2019 13:43 IST