Kerala Police on Thursday confirmed that their commandos had shot dead at least one suspected Maoist in a pitched gun battle with an armed group of irregulars in Wayanad forests late on Wednesday.
They tentatively identified the deceased as C.P. Jaleel, a resident of Pandikkadu in Malappuram district.
The police said retaliatory fire from Thunderbolt Commandos had felled Jaleel as he and his fellow “left-wing extremists” beat an ordered retreat through the dense undergrowth of the Lakkidi forests.
The Maoists had arrived at a local resort on March 6 night to demand cash and provisions. Local people alerted the police, who pursued the armed group as they withdrew into the forests from where they had appeared without a warning.
Officers said the Maoists made a disciplined withdrawal, firing as they pulled back in battle order, possibly with the intent to lure law enforcers into an ambush. Senior officers, apprehensive of booby traps, reined in the Thunderbolt platoon from giving a hot pursuit.
In the meantime, the armed group moved up to high ground, giving them a temporary tactical advantage in the gunfight. The commandos used the advantage of night vision equipment and flash suppressors attached to their rifles to retaliate without revealing their position in the darkened forest.
An officer said the pitched gun battle was sporadic but continued well into the night. The commandos had attempted to pin down the armed irregulars, encircle them and force their surrender. The Maoists appeared to have fired from AK-47 assault rifles and double-barrel guns.
However, some members of the group managed to break out of the siege in the cover of darkness. The police said that they had cast a dragnet for them, which entailed armed units, local informants and plainclothes look-outs in Nilambur, Thamarassery and Meppadi localities bordering the forests.
They also did not rule out the possibility of the armed group heading to Ootacaumund in Tamil Nadu via the Lakkidi-Nilambur-Nadukani Churam forest route.
An officer said the nearly 100 km trek was arduous and the path was a switchback of sharp climbs, and precipitous descends. “It would take the group several days to make it to Tamil Nadu,” he added.
Investigators said some biographical details of Jaleel have emerged. His brother C.P. Rasheed is a human rights activist and another brother, C.P. Moideen, was known for his intellectual association with Communist Party of India (Maoist). They said Jaleel took odd jobs before joining the Maoists full time in 2014.
IG (Kannur Range) Balaram Kumar Upadhyaya said the police had initiated an enquiry into the incident as per the guidelines of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC).
Meanwhile, the police have conducted an inquest into the Jaleel's death. They said he had died due to gunshot wounds to his head and torso. They counted two bullet injuries on his body.
They told doctors would perform an autopsy on Jaleel’s body at the Government Medical College Hospital, Kozhikode in the presence of the Revenue Division Officer. They would video record the procedure and submit it in court.