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Last Updated: Tuesday, 19 October, 2004, 12:31 GMT 13:31 UK
Indian bandit dies in police trap
Reporters in a Dharmapuri hospital photograph the body which police say is Koose Muniswamy Veerappan
Exact circumstances of Veerappan's death remain unknown
India's most wanted man, a bandit known as Veerappan, was killed in a well-planned operation, police in the southern state of Tamil Nadu say.

They said Veerappan and his three associates were killed in a shootout after police laid a trap in the jungle.

Veerappan, a Tamil, was accused of more than 100 murders as well as kidnapping, smuggling and poaching, and had been on the run for some 20 years.

His killing late on Monday has sparked angry protests by some local residents.

As a post-mortem examination was being conducted in a hospital in the town of Dharmapuri on Tuesday, some of the hundreds of people who gathered outside said police should have arrested and brought Veerappan to justice.

A tall, wiry man in his 50s with a trademark handlebar moustache, Koose Muniswamy Veerappan, had been considered the country's most ruthless and daring bandit.

This was indeed a difficult mission because he was a worthy foe
Vijay Kumar, Special Task Force chief

The Indian government had offered a 50m rupee ($1.1m) reward for any information leading to Veerappan's arrest.

One of his victims, leading south Indian actor Rajkumar, said he was happy and relieved to see the end of Veerappan, who held him and three others hostage four years ago.

'Ambulance' trap

The chief of the Special Task Force (STF) - the team specially assigned to catch Veerappan - said the operation was meticulously planned over the past few months, the BBC's Sampath Kumar in Dharampuri reports.

LIFE OF CRIME
Killed first elephant aged 14
Accused of smuggling ivory worth $2.6m and sandalwood worth $22m
Escaped from behind the bars in 1986 by killing four policemen and an unarmed forest official in their sleep
Operated mainly in the forests bordering states of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu

STF chief Vijay Kumar told journalists that the bandit was desperately looking for men to join his diminishing gang.

Mr Kumar said four undercover STF policemen had been sent to develop a rapport with Veerappan and later managed to gain the bandit's confidence.

Shortly before his death, Veerappan told the undercover policemen that he needed urgent medical treatment as he was suffering from asthma, Mr Kumar said.

He said the STF then laid a trap - an ambulance driven by an undercover policeman was sent to the bandit, while policemen lay in wait on the route to be taken by the van.

The van riddled with bullets
Veerappan's ambulance was riddled with bullets

When the vehicle reached a marked spot, Veerappan was surrounded and ordered to surrender.

The bandit refused and instead opened fire on the STF men, prompting the retaliatory police fire, Mr Kumar said.

He said that Veerappan and his three associates were killed in the gun battle that lasted about 20 minutes in Dharmapuri district, about 320km (200 miles) south-west of Madras (Chennai).

Police had long been hunting Veerappan in forests on Tamil Nadu's border with the neighbouring state of Karnataka.

"This was indeed a difficult mission because he was a worthy foe. It was not very easy to get him. This operation was coming at the end of a long wait, a desperate wait," Mr Kumar was quoted as saying by Reuters news agency.

The Tamil Nadu chief minister, Jayalalitha, has congratulated police for what she called the "daring operation in which the notorious bandit was killed".

Karnataka's chief minister has announced free houses for the police officers involved.

String of kidnappings

The fugitive was involved in the kidnapping two years ago of former state minister of Karnataka, H Nagappa, who was found dead after three months in captivity.

He was also involved in the kidnapping of Rajkumar, who was released after 108 days of captivity - allegedly for a huge ransom.

Speaking to reporters in Bangalore, the actor - now in his late 70s - said police should have killed Veerappan earlier.

"Anti-social elements like Veerappan should not be allowed to live," he said.

Since 1993, he had offered to surrender to police on three occasions, always demanding that he be given complete amnesty for his crimes.

But the authorities always insisted that he should first lay down his arms and surrender.

There had been allegations that he had close links with some banned extremist Tamil nationalist groups, as well as Tamil Tiger separatists in Sri Lanka.




BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
How Veerappan became India's most notorious bandit



SEE ALSO:
Death of a legendary bandit
18 Oct 04  |  South Asia
Veerappan hunt a 'waste of time'
01 Jul 03  |  South Asia
Indian police hunt bandit online
18 Feb 03  |  South Asia
India ups bandit reward
31 Dec 02  |  South Asia
The hunt for India's elusive bandit
09 Dec 02  |  South Asia
Alert after Indian politician's death
09 Dec 02  |  South Asia
Indian bandit 'was paid ransom'
22 Nov 02  |  South Asia


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