One of the buildings that was damaged in landmine explosions on Monday. (Tausheen Rubbani)
Hazaribagh, July 23: A squad of 80 armed Maoists triggered eight powerful landmines in quick succession at an upcoming multi-crore police lines 4km from Giridih town in the small hours today, damaging six under-construction buildings and killing two labourers.
Police later recovered pamphlets, saying the marathon attack that involved nine 50kg mines and gunfire was in protest against “forcible acquisition” of 40 acres from villagers of Paparwatand for the Rs 33-crore project, which envisages offices, quarters, barracks and armoury.
Giridih superintendent of police A.V. Homkar said they had sealed the borders of the district and launched a massive combing operation with the help of CRPF.
Sources said the Maoists, led by zonal commander Ajay Mahto, swooped at the project site in Paparwatand area, barely 500 metres from Muffasil police station, around 10pm. They split into two groups of 50 and 30. While the first squad stood guard, the others scaled the low boundary wall to sneak into the premises.
The rebels first checked all the under-construction buildings and later planted nine landmines. Fifteen labourers, who were present at the site, were asked to run if they wished to live.
Preetam Kumar, one of the workers, said two of their colleagues — Phulchand Hansda and Badku Hansda, both from Purulia — were sleeping. “The Maoists also hollered at them, asking them to vacate the building immediately, but they were in deep sleep,” he said.
Around 12.35am, the Maoists triggered the first blast. Vikas Kumar, another labourer, said there were “explosions every three to four minutes”. Eight out of the nine landmines went off.
As portions of buildings crumbled, Phulchand and Hansda were buried alive in debris. Another worker sustained injuries.
Paparwatand residents too heard the explosions and, initially, thought Maoists had attacked their village.
The whole operation lasted for more than three hours and the dozen-odd policemen on guard at the project site were easily outnumbered.
Though they opened fire on Maoists soon after the landmines were triggered, the latter used cover fire to cross the Barakar river and escape into dense forests.
A team of CRPF and police personnel, led by Homkar, reached the spot in the morning. They found the pamphlets and the lone landmine that failed to go off. A bomb disposal squad from Hazaribagh defused it in the afternoon.
Homkar confirmed the two deaths and said the attack was spurred by fear of a new police lines. “All I can say is that this was an act of utter desperation,” he added.