Jehanabad/Patna, Nov. 14: Naxalites today killed nine of the hostages they had taken from Jehanabad jail last night in the most audacious operation ever mounted by them anywhere in the country.
The Maoists freed two of their leaders, Ajay Kanu and Murali, from the jail and kidnapped around two dozen members of the upper-caste private army Ranbir Sena.
At least 340 ' some estimates suggest nearly 390 ' prisoners escaped when they stormed the jail.
During the siege of Jehanabad town by some 1,000 Maoists that began around 9 pm yesterday, six people were killed ' two policemen, extremists and Ranbir Sena members each.
The Maoists had encircled the police lines and SS College where voting machines were being guarded by CRPF jawans after yesterday’s third phase of polling in Bihar, but their real target was the prison as the objective was to free their comrades.
In the process, they abducted members of their traditional rivals, the Ranbir Sena, spraying 18 bullets into one of its leaders, Bare Sharma.
District magistrate Rana Avadhesh, who became the centre of controversy for allegedly taking part in a baton charge on journalists, said three bodies, thought to be of kidnapped Sena members, were recovered from the rail tracks near the jail.
Five others were believed to have been killed in adjoining Gaya. The body of Visweshwar Rai, a prominent Sena member, was found in a Jehanabad village.
Avadhesh put the number of prisoners who had escaped at 341, of whom six had been caught. But A.B. Prasad, IG (prisons), said 383 inmates were missing. At the time of the attack, the prison was holding 685 inmates, with six guards on duty. Unofficial reports said only four were present.
The retreating rebels, who had completed their operation by 10 pm, are believed to have escaped towards the south.
The administration could not do much to conceal its failure and the best police patrols could do during the day was to search adjoining villages.
An observer of Naxalite attacks said: “They (police) will find only women and children now.”
“Our first priority is to rescue the Ranbir Sena men,” said a police officer, as the authorities came under attack from families of the kidnapped prisoners. A Sena member even grabbed the district magistrate by the neck.
Chief secretary G.S. Kang said: “We had intelligence reports about a possible Naxal attack. We defended the police lines and armoury successfully. Unfortunately, the jail became the main target.”
The police regained control of the prison nearly 15 hours after the attack. Assistant jailor Anil Kumar was suspended for dereliction of duty.
Once the rebels had opened the jail gate last night, no one from the administration cared to close it till at least 1 pm today. Prisoners, their relatives and onlookers freely mingled. Two unending queues formed on the road leading to the jail.
In Delhi, Union home secretary Vinod Kumar Duggal said eight to 10 companies of paramilitary forces had been sent to Bihar.