Rampur (UP), Jan. 1: Four militants gunned down seven jawans after walking unchallenged into one of north Indias biggest Central Reserve Police Force camps, left virtually unguarded despite two intelligence warnings in a month that it was a prime target.
The pre-dawn raiders killed a rickshaw-puller sleeping on the roadside before attacking the Rampur camp, where jawans woken up by the initial firing dismissed it as firecrackers set off by New Year revellers.
By the time the force had come up with some token resistance ó with only 20-odd from the camps 1,000 jawans engaging the enemy ó the militants had killed, in ones and twos, the few sentries manning the gate and offices on celebration night.
The raiders seem to have easily escaped after a 50-minute gun battle left another five jawans injured.
Union home ministry officials said that in an end-November advisory on militant targets, they had specifically mentioned the CRPF training and recruitment centre in this town, 200km east of Delhi and famous for the Rampuri switchblade knife.
District officials said they had forwarded two warnings to the central force, in the last weeks of November and December. Someone kept the gates open despite that, collector Ram Sanjeevan said.
The militants arrived around 2.45am down the Lucknow-Delhi National Highway 24, killed the lone rickshaw-puller asleep before a cluster of closed shops, and approached the camps main gate by crossing a railway track.
A CRPF source said the attackers wore the paramilitary forces uniform but this couldnt be confirmed.
A grenade lobbed at the sandbagged picket killed its single sentry. The raiders then fired and moved about freely, killing two in one office, two more at another and a sixth and seventh in the DIGs office or control room.
None of the slain jawans had firearms lying close to them, eyewitnesses said.
When I first heard the shots, I thought it was firecrackers going off on the streets outside, said Indrapal Singh, 35, a wounded jawan.
By the time he and a few others had rubbed sleep off their eyes and reached the spot, it was 3.10am.
The attackers fired back and threw grenades. It was dark, and the trees and blocks of buildings provided the militants enough cover, Indrapal said. By 4am, the raiders werent firing any more.
No one is sure how they escaped, one possible route being the road to Aghapur village that cuts through the camp.
Some officers expressed surprise that the attackers, who seemed to have a free run of the camp, showed no interest in raiding the armoury.
Other than its 1,000 standing troops, the camp housed 500 trainees, too, having just completed a recruitment drive.
District officials said they had received a faxed message from Lucknow in end-November that relayed the conversation between two militants intercepted in Srinagar days earlier. One of them addressed the other as Salimbhai.
The CRPF is recruiting, its a good opportunity, the message purportedly said, implying militants planned to join the queue of candidates for a recce to plan a strike.
Officials at CRPF headquarters in Delhi said they had received a general warning that did not mention the camp.
The collector said the central force was asked to scrap the December 9-10 recruitment rally or to hold it in an open field outside the camp but ignored both requests.
A second faxed warning prompted a meeting between the administration and a senior CRPF officer, but the camps security still stayed lax, district officials said.
They added that in November, the CRPF was asked to close the road to Aghapur but the villagers protested and the Samajwadi Partys Jaya Prada took up their cause.
Rampur district officials recently met CRPF officers and asked them to take precautions. The failure, if any, is on their part, chief minister Mayavati said.
Officers said the raiders were from either the Lashkar-e-Toiba or the Jaish-e-Mohammed, which alone had such firepower or fidayeen cadre.