Bangalore, Feb. 11: Naxalites left a trail of blood in Karnataka hours before the Prime Minister's visit, mowing down six sleeping policemen and a passerby in their first-ever strike in the state.
About 300 Maoists armed with AK-47s and grenades drove up to a primary school building in Venkatamannahalli, the last village on the border with Andhra Pradesh, late last night and blew it up. Thirty policemen of the state reserve force were sleeping there at that time.
The policemen, taken totally by surprise, had turned in for the night after patrolling the border in Tumkur district. Those who survived said they first heard a gunshot after which power supply was cut off and the building bombed.
Several women in battle fatigues were spotted jumping out of mini-trucks during the raid. One group grabbed 10 self-loading rifles stocked in the building and fled while others turned their AK-47s on policemen returning fire.
Six injured policemen, brought for treatment to Victoria Hospital in Bangalore, said the Naxalites had left a note in Telugu warning of similar attacks in future.
'We were taken by complete surprise because we heard one gunshot and power supply was turned off. Later, we discovered they shot our colleague standing guard outside the school building and drove in to blast the building.
'We saw them hurl lunch boxes and cosmetics boxes containing explosives at the building. They left a note in Telugu warning of more attacks,' a policeman said.
A passerby, Humantha, who was drinking water from a tap on the school premises, was killed. He was employed as a driver in a local transport company.
Police said the raid appeared to be in retaliation to the gunning down of two Naxalites in Chikmagalur district on Sunday. CPI (Maoist) secretary Saketh Rajan and Krishnamurthy were killed in an encounter with district police that day.
Director general of police S.N. Borkar said: 'It appears to be a retaliatory attack by Moaists for the death of two comrades in Chikmagalur.
'It is definitely the handiwork of Maoists, who first disconnected power supply to the school and threw explosives and grenades. We have rushed reinforcements to the spot and launched a manhunt.'
Chief minister Dharam Singh today held a top-level meeting to review security. He said two anti-Maoist teams, each headed by an officer of the rank of DIG and comprising 250 armed policemen, would be set up to combat the menace.
While one team would patrol the Western Ghats, the other would be positioned along the state's border with Andhra Pradesh, Singh said. 'We had some sympathy for these elements, but not any more.'
The Prime Minister said the Centre would fully back Karnataka's anti-Naxalite operations. 'I think maintenance of law and order is the primary responsibility of any civilised government. The Karnataka government is aware of its responsibility and has the full support of the central government in tackling this menace.'