March 6, 2010

Bengal Cops land explosives haul in Maoist den

Kolkata, 5th March, 2010 : A huge haul of explosives, enough to blow up Writers’ Buildings, has been recovered by police from a Maoist hideout in a forest in Shirshi, barely 30km from Lalgarh. The 250kg of explosives —200kg of potassium nitrate and 50kg of sulphur — is the largest such recovery made by the police from the Maoists. The explosives were buried in the forest in five sacks.

“When mixed together, the potassium nitrate and sulphur along with charcoal and splinters make a very potent explosive,” said Manoj Verma, district superintendent of police. “About 400kg of explosives could have been made from it. Never before has such a large quantity been recovered from the Maoist-infested areas of the state.”

The largest explosives haul so far has been 14kg. Police officers said that on Wednesday night the joint forces started combing the Shirshi area following a specific tip-off that a team of about 30 Maoist guerrillas led by Badal of Lalgarh had taken shelter in the region.

“Around Wednesday midnight, when we had crossed Shirshi village and were proceeding towards the jungle, shots were fired at us. We fired back. About 300 rounds were fired till Thursday morning,” a police officer said. Around 8am yesterday, when firing from the forest stopped, the security forces advanced cautiously into the jungles and came across a mound of earth.
“The earth appeared to have been dug not very long ago. Maybe a few days ago. So we dug up the earth again and found the sacks of potassium nitrate and sulphur in a pit. We also found a cooking gas cylinder and the carrier of a motorcycle lying beside the mound of earth,” a police officer said.

The police said it seemed that the Maoist group had fled in a hurry and did not get time to take the explosives. After the sacks were dug out they were sent to explosives experts in Midnapore town who examined the contents and confirmed the nature of the chemicals.
A senior officer said the police suspected that explosives were being made under the supervision of a senior Maoist leader. The presence of the cooking gas cylinder strengthened the police theory that a move was afoot to make a large number of improvised explosive devices (IEDs). “Obviously a gas cutter was being used to make splinters out of things like the motorcycle carrier,” an officer said. “It is possible that the gas cutter was being employed to cut galvanised iron pipes used to make directional mines.”

“We feel that a senior Maoist leader who is also an explosives expert was present in the Shirshi forest and IEDs were being made under his supervision,” the SP said. The police said Kishen, the best-known Maoist leader in Bengal, was not an explosives expert. Rebel leader Telugu Deepak had been arrested in Calcutta earlier in the week.

In all probability, the potassium nitrate had been brought from Jharkhand as the Maoists there are better equipped. Officials said that late last year a truckload of potassium nitrate coming from Maharashtra and headed for a fertiliser factory near Durgapur had been hijacked from the Jharkhand border by the Maoists.

“It is possible that the chemicals that we recovered today were part of that haul,” an officer said.
A month ago, the police had stumbled across two large tents in the Ajnashuli forest, 10km from here, and found a stock of sulphur and a small amount of gunpowder there along with instruments to repair firearms.

“The camp had been hastily abandoned and we found an empty mortar shell along with dismantled parts of country-made revolvers and single-barrel guns,” a police officer said. “It was quite apparent that this was some kind of a mini-factory for repairing firearms.” An expert said that had the explosives been distributed across five places in Writers’ Buildings, they would have had enough firepower to blow up the state’s administrative headquarters.