The prisoner van that was targeted by Maoists in Giridih on Friday. Picture by Tausheen Rubbani
Hazaribagh, Nov. 9: A 60-strong Maoist hit squad on 25 bikes and an SUV waylaid and fired upon a transit van ferrying prisoners, killing three policemen and an inmate in Giridih town this afternoon.
The daring 30-minute raid, which police suspect was plotted in Jamui, Bihar, and took place barely half a kilometre from Giridih Subdivisional Jail in Mohanpur, successfully freed seven hardcore rebels who were among the 32 prisoners being escorted back from court.
According to DSP Shatrughan Rajak, the attack took place around 3.55pm on the Giridih-Dhanbad Road, near Dakhiya, 5km from the district headquarters. The Maoists, who were armed with sophisticated weapons, also opened fire and hurled bombs on the police escort jeep.
“Both vehicles hit a wall under the hail of fire from Maoists. Three policemen and a prisoner were killed in the attack,” he added.
Sources said assistant sub-inspector Prabhunath Singh, constable Rajkumar Das and jeep driver Sadanand Gagrai died fighting the Maoists. Seven, including six policemen, sustained injuries.
While the Maoists managed to snatch a carbine and some rifles before escaping with seven of their cadres, a trail of half a dozen bombs, which failed to explode, were recovered from a nearby forested area.
According to DGP G.S. Rath, there were 32 prisoners in the van, seven of them hardcore Maoists. “All the seven managed to flee. One of the remaining 25 died and another was injured, while three returned to jail on their own,” he said in Ranchi.
Jailer Bipin Bihari identified the fugitive seven as Ramesh Mandal, Mithilesh Mandal, Nimchand Mahto, Sahdeo Soren, Bipin Mandal, Chotka Marandi and Pantosh Hembrom. They were lodged in the jail for quite some time.
Among the trio who returned was an eighth Maoist, Baijnath Tiwary.
Sources said the Maoists escaped using the dense cover of Saathe forest, where the trail of bombs was found later. DSP Rajak maintained that a massive combing operation had been launched in the area.
Highly placed sources told The Telegraph that the attack was planned in Jamui district of Bihar, which shares borders with Giridih and is known to be a Maoist stronghold. They said preliminary investigations suggested that the Maoists had made a foolproof strategy to launch the raid only half a kilometre from the jail. And, at least two dozen rebels from Jamui had infiltrated into Giridih to execute the plan.
A source said police had chanced upon a message sent to the CPI(Maoist) in Jamui about the success of the operation. Unconfirmed reports claimed the police had recovered the SUV used by Maoists.
DIG Suman Gupta, who was on her way to Giridih to assess the situation, said she was not in a position yet to say anything on the incident. On whether a message from Maoists was intercepted by police, she declined to comment.
All districts have, meanwhile, been alerted, with intelligence reports suggesting the possibility of a rerun.
The state has some 1,200 Maoists lodged across its five central, two subdivisional and 19 divisional prisons.