Police at the Faizabad court complex on Wednesday. Picture by Naeem Ansari
Lucknow, July 9: Bullets were fired and bombs hurled today in a gang war between suspected followers of a slain religious leader and supporters of the alleged killer in a Faizabad court that was targeted in the 2007 serial court blasts in Uttar Pradesh.
Two persons died in the shootout that eyewitnesses said continued for at least 20 minutes at the court compound not far from temple town Ayodhya. One lawyer described the scene as a “war zone”.
Seven persons were injured, including Sonu Singh, the alleged killer whose brother is a former Samajwadi Party legislator. Sonu, 45, had been brought from jail for a court appearance when he was targeted.
One of the bodies, suspected to be of one of the followers of the slain religious leader, Gyaneswar, was dragged away by his associates. The other body is yet to be officially identified, police said, but is thought to be of a supporter of Sonu.
The shootout sent lawyers, litigants and visitors scurrying for cover into the courtrooms and inside a municipal office nearby. According to some lawyers, around 200 people were present when the attack began around 12.30pm.
The police said the intruders had stocked the bombs and some other weapons in the court complex long before Sonu was brought in a police van from prison, raising questions on the safety measures and security of the complex at a time Uttar Pradesh has witnessed a spurt in crime.
Panic gripped the court later too, as three bombs were found in a shack in a corner of the complex after the shootout. Several spent cartridges and bomb splinters lay strewn around, eyewitnesses said.
Om Prakash Srivastav, an eyewitness, said the firing continued between two groups till one of the intruders fell to a bullet. Srivastav said he saw the bullet-riddled body of the man dragged away by his associates.
“We have one body in our possession. We are told that the other was taken away by the attackers. We are investigating all dimensions of the case and prima facie it appears to have links with the assassination of Gyaneswar in 2006,” said Faizabad SSP Krishna Bahadur Singh.
Gyaneswar, who the police said faced several criminal cases, was killed along with six of his aides in February 2006 near hometown Allahabad. His followers had suspected Sonu as he was locked in a property dispute with the religious leader near one of his ashrams in Barabanki. Sonu’s family hails from Barabanki, 70km from Faizabad.
Today, the police said they were interrogating Sonu, who is in hospital with splinter injuries. The younger brother of former Samajwadi legislator Chandra Bhadra Singh, Sonu was arrested after Gyaneswar’s killing. He also faces other cases of murder and abduction.
At the court complex, Sonu was targeted as he was being escorted by the police. “The three bombs were followed by a volley of firing and soon the court compound looked like it was after (the terror) blasts in November 2007. It became a war zone,” Ravishankar Tiwari, an advocate, said.
The Faizabad complex was among three courts — the other two were Varanasi and Lucknow — hit by blasts on November 23, 2007. Fifteen persons died and 70 were injured in the triple terror strike.