Sixteen people were shot dead by a group over what appears to be a land dispute at Amausi village in Bihar’s Khagaria district late on Thursday night. Sources said the victims were tied together and then shot at close range around 11 p.m. Six of the victims were between 13 and 18 years.

Official sources said other angles, including political conspiracy and naxal links, were being probed.

Deputy Chief Minister Sushil Kumar Modi told journalists after visiting the spot: “The victims belonged to Acchiari village and had been living in makeshift hutments on the land. They used to cultivate on land at Amausi village. It was primarily a dispute between two factions on control over 300 bighas of land,” he said.

Mr. Modi said the government was exploring the possibility of naxal involvement as an erstwhile CPI (M) leader, Bhudan Sada, had been forced out of the organisation and replaced with Jogi Singh.

Speaking to The Hindu, ADG (Headquarters) Neelmani said land was the prime issue in the murders.

“Ten people have been arrested so far, including one O.P. Mahto, whom we believe to be the prime suspect,” said Mr. Neelmani.

He emphatically stated that it was not a large-scale Maoist attack as earlier reports purported. “Even the weapons used were not very sophisticated.”

While condemning the incident, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar said the perpetrators of this heinous crime would be sternly dealt with.

Mr. Kumar announced an ex-gratia of Rs. 1.5 lakhto the families of each of those killed.

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