How Veerappan walked into the STF's trap


DHARMAPURI: Veerappan, India's most wanted and most elusive brigand who murdered with impunity, was finally shot dead in his jungle hideout by elite commandos using some of the very tactics he employed for well over two decades to build a vast criminal empire.

Using deception, undercover agents and a meticulously laid out network of informants, Tamil Nadu's Special Task Force (STF) commandos - set up only to nab him - trapped the 50-something Munuswamy Veerappan Gounder, made famous by his trademark handlebar moustache, into taking a van ride in a forested region where policemen ambushed and gunned him down Monday night.

Operation Cocoon to track and eliminate the forest bandit succeeded because of extra-ordinary intelligence said K Vijaykumar, chief of the combined Special Task Force (STF) on Tuesday.

In a remarkable success story of perseverance, the STF - made up of commandos toughened by living in the inhospitable jungles of southern India straddling the Tamil Nadu-Karnataka border - planted a mole in Veerappan's gang who drove the van that led him to his death.
A visibly triumphant STF chief K. Vijay Kumar, a former police chief of Chennai, told a crowded news conference here that Veerappan, blamed for some 120 murders, was killed after a fierce 20-minute gun battle near Papparapatti village of Dharmapuri district, some 300 km from state capital Chennai.

STF personnel in civilian clothes, hiding along both sides of a jungle track halted the van, supposedly an ambulance, at 10.50 p.m. after being tipped off about his movements and asked him to surrender, Kumar said. But Veerappan opened fire, sparking a firefight.

In no time, Veerappan, who was not wearing his usual battle fatigues and had trimmed his moustache apparently to hide his identity, lay dead along with three of his hardcore associates, Sethukuli Govindan, Chandra Gowda and Govindan. Veerappan took bullets in the head and an eye.

Asked where Veerappan was heading to, Vijaykumar said probably the sandalwood smuggler, who had an eye problem, was going for some treatment.

The STF seized two AK-47 rifles, a 12 bore shotgun and a 7.62 self-loading rifle besides cash and three grenades from the dead men.

The killing sparked off celebrations in STF camps in the area, with its personnel bursting firecrackers and lighting colourful flares, brightening the forest sky well before dawn.

The STF chief, who had tonsured his head as a vow for the killing of Veerappan, said pressure was put on the brigand to come out of the jungle to an area where the STF had an advantage.

"This is a Diwali gift for the people of Tamil Nadu and the families of Veerappan's victims," said an STF officer. Both Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J. Jayalalitha and DMK chief M. Karunanidhi hailed his death as did former deputy prime minister L.K. Advani.

The deaths mark the end of a man who at one time virtually ruled a sprawling 6,000-sq km thickly forested region where he killed men in cold blood, murdered elephants for their ivory and cut sandalwood trees for smuggling, building a vast criminal empire that had no parallel.
Kumar, dressed in STF battle fatigues and flanked by dozens of his colleagues, including men who spied on Veerappan, admitted that the man they had killed was no ordinary criminal. 
Bodies of Veerappan and his men at Dharampuri hospital on Tuesday. (AFP photo)
"He was a worthy foe, he was not easy to get," Kumar said, speaking alternatively in English and Tamil in this small town.

The STF chief revealed that the security forces of both Tamil Nadu and Karnataka had together stepped up pressure on Veerappan in recent months, and the Tamil Nadu STF had been waiting for him to emerge from his hideout.

"We watched him for several days," he said. He said some of his men infiltrated villages in the region by taking up jobs as hawkers, waiters at small restaurants and bus conductors.

"We penetrated even (Tamil Nadu's) jails," he said. "All this gave us good results."

Kumar gave equal credit to Karnataka's security forces for the killing of Veerappan, who began life as a small time criminal but ended up building a gang of his own and earning the reputation of one who would spare none who came in his way.

Although his first murder was reportedly committed in 1969, his killing spree began in right earnest in July 1987 when he abducted and killed a forest officer of Tamil Nadu. Two years later he murdered five men of a rival gang.

Veerappan's terror reign took firm roots when he killed and mutilated three Tamil Nadu forest personnel in August 1989 and shot dead a Tamil Nadu sub-inspector and a head constable the next January.

In May 1990, the STF was set up to catch him, but the man always remained one step ahead of his pursuers. In the process, Veerappan, who came from a poor family, cocked a snook at the governments of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, making a mockery of the thousands of men deployed to track him down.
Veerappan had trimmed his handlebar moustache. (AFP photo)
This soon turned into the country's largest manhunt for any criminal. Veerappan commanded a price Rs.3 crore (Rs.30 million) on his head.

Veerappan's heartless methods were in full display when he lured R. Srinivas, a senior forest official who he blamed for his sister's death, into his lair and personally beheaded him. This was in November 1990.

Then in August 1992, to avenge the death of four of his gang members, he trapped STF Superintendent of Police Hari Krishna, tied him with grenades and blew him up along with five other policemen.

In 1993, the central government stepped in, deploying the Border Security Force (BSF) to assist the STF. That did not bring the desired results although the BSF managed to kill some of his associates.

In recent years, Veerappan moved closer to Tamil extremists in Tamil Nadu known to be sympathetic to Sri Lanka's Tamil Tiger guerrillas, becoming a larger than life figure. 


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