Nayagarh (Orissa), Feb. 16: Nayagarh last night, Bhubaneswar tomorrow.
Hours after hundreds of Maoists stormed police stations and outposts in this sleepy Orissa town, authorities in Bhubaneswar woke up to a chilling realisation the rebels were within striking distance of the state capital barely 100km away.
Sources said the simultaneous strikes that left 14 policemen dead was the worst Orissa had seen in terms of casualties, that too in a place never identified as a rebel stronghold.
The Maoists also raided an armoury and took away over 1,000 weapons, including AK-47s, light machine guns and carbines which were loaded onto two vehicles they had hijacked.
In Delhi, a senior police officer and an expert on the Maoist menace said the situation was more than serious. The Centre has rushed a high-level home ministry team to Orissa to assess the situation.
Police sources in Orissa said over 300 rebels, including 100 women, gunned down six policemen at a police reserve which houses an armoury, four others at a training school and two at Nayagarh police station in the heart of the town.
On their way back, they attacked a police outpost and two police stations, killing two more cops. A cycle shop owner who refused them tyres was also gunned down.
State police chief Gopal Chandra Nanda said our men were surrounded by the rebels from all sides and asked to surrender. But they did not, which is why the casualty figure was so high.
Nanda said hundreds of police and paramilitary personnel were searching for the rebels in the surrounding countryside.
The rebels, witnesses said, entered the town around 10.30 and split into three groups. They were speaking Hindi, Bengali, Telugu and Oriya, constable Jugal Chandra Swain told The Telegraph.
People were told not to come out of their houses, said Jitu, who runs a paan shop. They told us they wouldnt harm ordinary people. Their target was the police to loot arms.
Before leaving, the rebels regrouped near a bus stand, shook hands with stunned residents, had tea at a roadside stall and gave Rs 500 to a beggar.
At the police training school, blood-spattered furniture and bullet marks on the walls were grim reminders of the nocturnal strike.
The recruits had just finished dinner and were playing cards when the rebels struck.