NIA to probe Chhattisgarh Maoist attack, toll rises to 27

The National Investigation Agency will probe the major Maoist terror attack on Congress leaders in Chhattisgarh on Saturday that left 27 people dead and 32 injured.

Union home minister Sushilkumar Shinde said on Sunday that Chhattisgarh chief minister Raman Singh had assented to an NIA investigation.

"I have spoken to Raman Singh and he has agreed to a probe by the NIA," Shinde told PTI on the phone from New York. He has asked union home secretary R K Singh to proceed on these lines, Shinde added.

He said he has briefed Prime Minister Manmohan Singh about the decision to hand over the investigation to NIA.

Heavily-armed Maoists on Saturday ambushed a convoy of Congress leaders in Chhattisgarh's Bastar district.

The 27 dead include Congress leader Mahendra Karma, state Pradesh Congress Committee chief Nand Kumar Patel, his son Dinesh, and former MLA Uday Mudliyar.

Former union minister Vidya Charan Shukla is among the critically injured.

The toll rose to 27 after the bullet-riddled bodies of state party chief Nand Kumar Patel, his son Dinesh and eight others were found on Sunday.

A survivor, Shiv Narayan, said there were nearly 20 vehicles in the attacked convoy. ''The Naxals were checking almost every vehicle after the bloodbath.''

The attack took place around 4 pm, but security forces could reach the spot only after 9 pm.

Locals and some media persons accompanying the convoy helped the survivors reach Darbha police station, from where they were taken to Maharani Hospital in Jagdalpur by ambulance.

The bodies of the Patels and the others were found about one kilometre from the spot where the rebels had ambushed the convoy, in the forested Jiram Valley.

Patel and his son were missing after the rebels triggered a landmine explosion and opened indiscriminate fire near Darbha in Jagdalpur district, 340 km south of state capital Raipur.

Congress leaders Karma and Mudliyar were gunned down even as they tried to surrender.

Chhattisgarh Deputy General of Police Ram Niwas said 32 people were injured in the attack. The police brought 17 bodies to the Maharani hospital in Jagdalpur during the early hours of Sunday. Heavy downpour since morning at Jagdalpur affected rescue operations.

Some missing Congress workers returned to Jagdalpur on their own steam.

Most of the dead and injured are Congress leaders and workers, while four or five of those killed were personal security officers of the Congress leaders.Karma, who had been at the forefront of Salwa Judum, a state-sponsored anti-Naxal militia, had been on the rebels' hit list for some time. He had been a home minister in the state and last represented the Congress in the Chhattisgarh assembly as the opposition leader.

The suspected rebels attacked the convoy as it passed through the Darbha valley. The convoy was returning from a rally organised as part of the Congress party's Parivartan Yatra. Chhattisgarh goes to elections later this year.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has ordered the home ministry to dispatch more than 600 paramilitary personnel, including elite CoBRA anti-Maoist commandos, to sanitise and take control of the site of Saturday's attack.

"I have spoken to the chief minister of the state and urged him to provide all possible assistance to those who have been injured and to ensure the security and safety of those who have been abducted," said Singh, who also had a meeting with Congress chief Sonia Gandhi and party vice-president Rahul Gandhi.

Chhattisgarh is among the state worst-affected by Maoist violence and large parts of it are under the control of the extremists.

In 2012, the state accounted for half of all Maoist attacks on police personnel in the Red Corridor that includes parts of Jharkhand, Odisha, Maharashtra and Bihar.