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Bandit gives Black Cats the slip

Kollegal, Sept. 8: If the Special Task Force was upbeat on Saturday for having spotted forest brigand Veerappan, who had kidnapped Janata Dal (United) leader H. Nagappa a fortnight ago, it turned to despair on Sunday as the sandalwood smuggler had once again given the security forces the slip.

Black Cat commandos joined the STF from Karnataka and Tamil Nadu in the Ramapura forest range on Saturday morning on the basis of reports that the men in uniform had finally cornered Veerappan.

The National Security Guards were supposed to add the finishing touches to the fortnight-long “nab Veerappan” operations, when it became clear on late Saturday night that Veerappan and his gang had vacated the area encircled by the STF almost 24 hours ago.

So it was business as usual for the STF and the Nagappa family since Sunday morning. While the Nagappa residence reverberated with the chant of mantras and religious ceremonies, the STF once again promised to step up efforts to secure the former minister’s safe return and capture the brigand.

The 150 Black Cat commandos – who had been brought in for the final battle with the Veerappan gang and ensure Nagappa’s safe release – were pulled back into reserve. However, nearly 1,000 Central Reserve Police Force personnel are expected to join the STF on Sunday night to help with the combing operations.

Scores of Janata Dal activists marched into Nagappa’s house from time to time, shouting slogans that urged the state government to step up plans to secure their leader's release.

At a press conference today near the Ramapura forest range, Karnataka director-general of police V.V. Bhaskar exhorted Nagappa’s family, friends and the media to give “unstinted support to achieve the twin objectives of securing safe release of the former minister and the capture of Veerappan”. “Certain sections of society, which continued to support Veerappan’s gang overtly and covertly, will be exposed and brought to book using stringent measures such as attaching their property and putting them in jail under POTA,” he added.

Though Bhaskar refused to elaborate on who these “sections of society” might be, senior STF officials clarified that their superior officer had meant some villagers in the Karnataka-Tamil Nadu border who had reportedly helped Veerappan to post the second cassette. “This was not aimed at any big leader or community,” said an STF official. There were indications from Kollegal that the STF may not get local support despite the director-general’s appeals for “unstinted support”.

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