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Malkhan slips from cop snare

- Police team in Malda fires but loses KLO leader

March 31: Malkhan Singh, the senior KLO leader wanted in the bus firing case in Malda district last year, gave police the slip last night.

A team of around 30 Bengal police and Sashastra Seema Bal jawans intercepted him last night in Gajole, about 40km from Malda town, but Malkhan escaped.

Sources in Malda police said the team spotted Malkhan at Banksarai More in Ranipur village around 9.30pm and intercepted him. Malkhan, whose real name is Madhab Mondal, fired at the policemen, and they returned fire. But in the dark, Malkhan escaped.

“Malkhan is in charge of the Malda unit of the KLO and we'll get him,” Malda police chief Rajesh Yadav said later. “He gave us the slip but the hunt for him is still on.”

Malkhan, who is in his thirties, is wanted in several cases including the firing on a bus in Malda district on December 27 last year. No one died in the shooting that happened a day after a suspected KLO blast in Jalpaiguri town killed six people.

Malda police later said that Malkhan was among the three persons directly involved in the bus firing in Malda.

He is also suspected to be involved in the killing of a BJP panchayat election candidate in Malda district on June 16 last year.

Malkhan, who is from Bamongola in Malda, is said to be the third in the KLO’s pecking order after Jeevan Singh and Kailash Koch, both of whom are on the run.

Malkhan was first arrested in February 2006 in connection with a counterfeit currency case.

He is believed to be involved in subversive activities and extortion in Malda and the two Dinajpurs.

Insiders in the intelligence branch said the tip-off about Malkhan's planned visit to Banksarai More off NH34 in Gajole came from one his associates, Nabanu Barman, who was arrested by a Malda police team on March 29 on the outskirts of Bangalore.

The police have been on the hunt for 25-year-old Nabanu since his name surfaced along with Malkhan’s in connection with the firing on the bus in Pakuahat last year.

Over a month ago, intelligence agencies learnt that Nabanu, who hails from Bamongola like Malkhan, was working as a mason in Bangalore.

“After trying to track Nabanu’s whereabouts for sometime, we learnt that he was engaged in construction work as a labourer in the Harinagar area of Bangalore where an industrial estate is coming up,” Malda district police chief Yadav said.

“The Harinagar police was informed and he was arrested on March 29. He was produced in court and given transit remand till April 4.”

Based on Nabanu’s information about Malkhan’s whereabouts, the Bengal police top brass instructed the Malda police to form a team to arrest him.

“We have so far arrested seven persons in connection with the firing on the bus, out of which two of the arrested are KPP leaders. It is very important to get Malkhan,” said a senior officer.

“We had collated information suggesting that Malkhan would be visiting Banksarai, Fatehpur and Ranipur areas within a day or two, and accordingly, a team was set up.”

The Malda police formed a team with additional police superintendent Shyam Singh heading it.

Several members from the SSB were also inducted into the team.

The team fanned out in Gajole yesterday evening.

Sunil Rajbangshi, one of the villagers in Raniganj who saw the approaching police party, said: “Around 9pm we suddenly spotted some men walking around with torch lights. When we inquired about them, they asked us to leave.”

Sunil and another villager were guarding sacks of potatoes last night when they saw the team approaching.

“Later, we learnt they were policemen and had come looking for Malkhan Singh.”

Till late this evening, the team combed the villages but arrested no one.

Central intelligence agencies have warned their counterparts in Bengal about the possibility of the KLO picking up steam ahead of the general elections.

On March 19, the KLO and its suspected activities were discussed with the Election Commission officials.

Anuj Sharma, IG, law and order, was present at the meeting where police superintendents from all north Bengal districts were asked to work on intelligence gathering on the KLO ahead of the polls.

On January 23, Malda police arrested Kumud Mondal, a KLO militant said to be close to Malkhan.

The district police had put up posters seeking information on Malkhan, Kumud and Nabanu, all wanted in the bus firing case.

“Kumud is the right-hand man of Malkhan Singh and is directly linked to the December 27 bus shooting,” then Malda police chief Kalyan Mukherjee had said.