200 rebels stop Intercity Express; firing lasts over half an hour

In three separate incidents of violence in Bihar and Maharashtra on Thursday, Maoists killed six people including a Railway Protection Special Force (RPSF) jawan and a business executive.

In an armed attack on a train, a group of around 200 Naxals targeted the Dhanbad-Patna Intercity Express near Jamui district in Bihar, killing three persons and injuring six passengers.

At least 500 passengers were said to be in the train.

In separate incidents, suspected Maoists killed three persons including a Vice President of Lloyds company in Gadchiroli district of Maharashtra while a constable of the Central Reserve Police Force was injured during an encounter in Gaya district of Bihar.

The deceased from the train incident have been identified as constable Sukhnath Deonath of the fifth RPSF battalion; Kumar Amit, a Bihar police personnel who was among the passengers on the train, and another passenger Sharwar Alam.

“The train was escorted by RPF and RPSF personnel, two in the front and three at the back. At least 150 to 200 Naxals intercepted the train at the Bhalui halt near Jamui and began firing. The jawans retaliated. The Naxals snatched two of their rifles. The train was moved to Kiul junction where forces from Jamalpur and Patna were rushed,” K. S. Anupam, deputy inspector general (DIG), Railways, told The Hindu.

The Bhalui halt falls in the Naxal-dominated Jamui and Lakhisarai districts. “It is a no-man’s land marked by jungle and hills,” Deepak Barnwal, superintendent of police, Jamui, told The Hindu.

The Maoists first stopped the train by disconnecting the vacuum pipe of the train, which could also be done by pulling the chain.

They then snatched a rifle from the RPSF and killed a jawan firing continuously. Several shots were fired on the train, Abhayanand, Bihar Director-General of Police told The Hindu.

The firing started at around 1.30 p.m. and lasted for nearly 40 minutes. Three jawans from the RPSF armed with rifles made the passengers lie down to escape the firing, Sanjay Singh, chief security officer of the East Central Railway told The Hindu.

The Railway escort party lost three rifles, including one AK 47 and two INSAS (Indian Small Arms System) rifles, Mr. Singh said.

“The jawans were firing in retaliation, so the Naxals were firing on the train,” S.K. Bhardwaj, Additional-Director General of Police, Law and Order told The Hindu. He said the Naxals attacked with two motives, one to spread terror and second to loot the arms of the jawans.

Many passengers boarded other trains to continue their journey to Patna. Ashok Kumar Singh, who arrived at Patna, said passengers tried to cower under the seats to save themselves.

“We were too scared to even sweat. People were crying for help. Little children were crying. The attackers were wearing t-shits and military trousers. The women assailants were not firing. They only took positions. They retreated into the jungle with the cries of ‘Lal Salam’,” Mr. Singh told The Hindu.

Hijack?

The State police are probing the incident and a case under the charge of murder and the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act has been registered. Whether the attack was an attempt to hijack the train is a matter of investigation. The authorities said since the Maoists were in large numbers “no other intention” other than hijack “could be attached” to the incident.

The relief operations started immediately as the train reached Kiul. Medical vans were rushed to Kiul to provide aid to injured passengers. The Central Reserve Police Force was also rushed for rescue. The train arrived in Patna in the evening.

The injured — KP Singh, train guard, Nuresha Kahtun, Satish Kumar, Dharmendra Shah, Prem Kumar Tripathi and Manoj Kumar, who is seriously hurt — received treatment in Kiul hospital.

The Gaya encounter took place during a routine patrolling operation in the Chhatarbanda forests, which has been a stranglehold of the Maoists for the past 30 years.

There forces have in recent times “occupied” the area with heavy police deployment. The Maoists, however, operate on the fringes. CRPF constable Ravishanker was injured in the exchange of fire with the Maoists. He is out of danger, Mr. Abhayanand told The Hindu.

“We had received intelligence inputs that some Maoists were hiding in that area. So the State police and the CRPF were conducting a search operation. We have been conducting massive operations in that area,” Ganesh Kumar, senior SP, Gaya, said.