Four Eastern Frontier Rifles jawans were killed in a surprise assault by Maoists in Gidhni in West Midnapore on Sunday, hours after Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee wrapped up a two-day visit to the violence-hit district.
Claiming responsibility for the killings, top Maoist leader Koteshar Rao alias Kishanji dared the central government to deploy as many forces as they wanted in the embattled area.
"We have killed the four jawans as they tortured innocent school children, who had taken out a rally in the area on Saturday, demanding that educational institutions be vacated by joint security forces and their classes resume at the earliest," Kishenji told PTI from an undisclosed location on Sunday night.
"Seven EFR jawans were patrolling near a police camp close to a school in Gidhni bazar area under Jamboni police station when the ultras fired at them from sophisticated weapons," said Inspector General of Police (Law and Order) Surajit Kar Purakayastha.
While four jawans died on the spot, three others managed to escape. When the three jawans returned soon and retaliated with gunfire, and more jawans from nearby camps joined them, the Maoists escaped into the jungles. The ultras also looted the arms of the four slain jawans.
To a question on whether the attack was a challenge posed by the Maoists to West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, who left the district just hours back, Kishenji retorted, "But we have long before challenged the central and state governments, and as I have just said, the war is on."
"We will win the war. Let the Centre deploy as many forces they want," he challenged.
Late on Sunday night, the bullet-riddled bodies of Naresh Thapa, Vivek Narang, Dhankumar Biswakarma and another EFR jawan were recovered and taken to Jhargram for post-mortem. Reinforcements and senior police officers were camping at the site.
The attack came a day after the killing of three youths, again hours before the chief minister's arrival in the district. The bullet-riddled bodies of Lakhi Das, Jayram Mandi and Manoranjan -- all Jharkhand Party activists and reportedly members of the Communist party of India - Marxist backed-Maoist resistance group in the area -- were found with their hands and legs tied on a road in Kusbani jungle, nearly 70 km from Midnapore town.
The ultras had also shot at and injured a former Marxist legislator.