Dulukdihi, July 12: A band of rebels returned to the Purulia village last night with a renewed threat hours before a group of tribal women, keening in unison, set out to give a ritual bath to one of their own, widowed by the extremists.
They would soon claim two more scalps, a dozen CPI (Maoist) activists told the residents of Dulukdihi, the village of 48 families where Mahendra Mahato, a CPM zonal committee member, was shot dead on Saturday night.
Despite the darkness, the villagers could clearly see the rebels waving their weapons and sounding the death-knell for 'police informers'.
After pumping four bullets into Mahato, the assassins had told the same to his wife, Alaka Rani. 'Seeing my husband gasping for breath, I started crying'. One of them then aimed the nozzle of his gun at me and said they would come again and two others of our village would meet the same fate,' she said today.
One of Mahato's neighbours, Bharat Singh, said: 'They marched along the dusty road late last night and thundered that they would kill two more from our village. We saw them through cracks in our closed windows, but we dared not come out.'
Police, too are apprehensive. Purulia superintendent R. Shiva Kumar said the extremists might attack again. 'They might target our sources and political leaders. We are providing security to a section of the local leaders but we cannot provide cover to the sources as it will expose them.'
A preliminary probe has revealed that Saturday's attackers did not hit and run. Rather, they waited for over half an hour to ambush policemen. 'Immediately after killing Mahato, the Maoists, armed with 9 mm pistols and carbines, took position behind trees along the half-kilometre stretch of gravelled road leading to the village. They expected senior police officers to rush to the spot. When none of them turned up, they walked to the adjoining Kendbani village and picked up two persons from there,' said Kumar.
'This is the first time they have adopted this style of operation ' laying a trap for a second strike after the first.'
Kumar said a group of 30, all members of the outfit's action squad, raided the village on Saturday. 'Most of them were from Jharkhand and fled there through the Bagdoba forest.'
Most male members of the 48 families have fled the village anticipating either police harassment or Maoist attacks. 'We are helpless in front of the Maoists. They force us to their meetings at gunpoint,' said Haladhar Mahato, one of the few men who stayed back.
Alaka Rani still cannot forget her husband praying for his life with folded hands before the guerrillas dressed in black.
'He was sitting three feet away from me, having dinner. Khali bolchhilo amaar aparadh ki' Kintu ora kono kotha shunlo na (He was repeatedly asking them what his fault was. But they did not pay any heed to him),' she said.
Accompanied by 30 neighbourhood women, Alaka Rani then left for the ritual dip in the village pond, three days after her husband's death.