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Last Updated: Monday, 14 November 2005, 13:53 GMT
Alert after India rebel jailbreak
Grieving relatives of Bade Sharma outside the jail in Jehanabad (photo by Prashant Ravi)
Grieving relatives of Bade Sharma outside the jail
Hundreds of police have been deployed in a town in the northern Indian state of Bihar after Maoist rebels attacked a prison and freed more than 300 inmates.

At least four people were killed in the raid on Jehanabad jail late on Sunday.

The authorities say about 1,000 rebels, armed and dressed in police uniforms, took part in the assault, which sparked a fierce battle with security forces.

Thousands have died in Maoist campaigns across central and southern India in the past 30 years.

India's deputy home minister, Prakash Jaiswal, said that additional central paramilitary forces had been rushed to Jehanabad from nearby areas and the situation was now under control.

Town under siege

Most of those freed in Jehanabad were activists or supporters of the Maoists, officials said.

They include rebel district commander Ajay Kanu.

The rebels also shot dead another prisoner, Binu Sharma, alias Bade Sharma, one of the commanders of Ranvir Sena, a banned upper caste private army.

Paramilitary soldier guards Jehanabad jail
A paramilitary soldier guards Jehanabad jail ((Photo: Prashant Ravi)

The rebels reportedly abducted some inmates and took away arms and ammunition from the jail armoury.

Officials say at the time of the raid there were only about eight to 10 policemen on duty there.

"They took advantage of the fact that most security forces were on guard duty at polling stations on Sunday," AS Nimbran, an inspector general of police in Patna, told the Associated Press news agency.

Chaotic situation

In a bid to divert the attention of the police officials, the extremists set off bombs, simultaneously attacking the police barracks, district court, the district magistrate's office and residence as well as the jail.

"I heard gunshots and explosions in the night. Then the lights went off," a school teacher, Ranjay Kumar told the Reuters news agency.

The rebels left pamphlets saying 'Operation Jailbreak' was timed to commemorate the 13 November Russian Revolution.

The relatives of the killed and the escaped prisoners assembled outside the jail gate to protest against the district administration.

"We are yet to get any information about our relatives lodged in the jail," a relative of one of the inmates told the BBC's Amarnath Tewary.

More than 700 inmates were in the jail at the time of the attack.

The state's director general of police, Ashish Ranjan Sinha, told the BBC the entire state was on high alert as security forces hunted for the rebels.

India's government believes that there may be 10,000 armed Maoist rebels in the country, correspondents say.

The Maoists say they are fighting for more rights for indigenous people in at least five states, including Bihar, which has a reputation as India's most lawless state.

The rebels are pressing for the creation of a communist state comprising tribal areas in the states of Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Orissa, Bihar and Chhattisgarh.

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