NEW DELHL, India: Unidentified gunmen shot dead a senior Punjab State Prison official in the latest spate of reprisal attacks.
The Press Trust of India (PTI) said P.C. Katoch, former head of the Punjab Prison Service, was gunned down in a shopping Centre in the state capital, Chandigarh, within view of his wife who witnessed the shooting from the balcony of their home, in sector 35.
As the prison officer approached the land the freedom fighters challenged him. He had hardly run back a few yards when the fire was opened. Mr. Katoch dropped to the ground there and then a C.R.
P.F. patrol was stationed in the sector 35 market but the assailants took another route. The assailants pumped four bullets into Mr. Katoch, two in his chest, one in the leg, ‘and one in the arm. He was rushed to P.G.I. where doctors declared him dead.
Senior officers of the Punjab government called on Mrs. Katoch. Mr. Katoch was cremated on Sunday.
According to police sources a note from the Khalistan Commando Force was found on the scene of the incident claiming Responsibility for the murder. Mr. Katoch was shot as he had allegedly done injustice to the Sikh youth lodged in jails.
A man who rang up local newspaper offices identified’ himself as Bhag Singh of Khalistan Commando Force and made claims that the killing was done as a revenge for the excesses commitment on Sikhs in Nabha jail. Local police said all exit points have been sealed and the outgoing vehicles were being searched. The incoming vehicles were also being checked. No one has so far been arrested.
Officials said a possible motive was to highlight the detention of almost 2,000 Sikh freedom fighters in state prisons.
PTI quoted eyewitnesses as saying the killers were hiding in a lane behind the high-rise building where Katoch and other senior state government officials lived. It said they struck as Katoch was returning home after buying vegetables.
Katoch, who was Inspector General of Prisons until September last year and due for retirement next October, was the highest ranking police officer to be killed in the Punjab, officials said.
It was also the most serious attack on a government official since former army commander Arun Vaidya was killed in the Western Indian city of Poona last August.
General Vaidya was army chief when soldiers stormed the Golden Temple in Amritsar. The Sikh community’s holiest shrine, in June 1984. in which nearly 6,000 people were killed.
Gunmen killed 10 people, including six members of a Sikh family, in. two separate attacks in villages near the Holy city of Amritsar. Police said gunmen apparently believed the head of the family, Gurmej Singh, was an informer. They said many of those killed in recent incidents included children and relatives of police and prison officials.
The killings brought to 20 the death toll so far this year from violence in Punjab where the militants are campaigning for a separate Sikh nation called “Khalistan’.
Last year 697 people died in violence in the state.
Police said they raided last night the headquarters of the so called Khalistan Commando Force, in Punjab’s Gurdaspur district bordering Pakistan, and seized’ a large quantity of guns, hand grenades, and ammunition.
A spokesman said they also arrested at least 20 suspected freedom fighters, including a woman, following the raid and in searches of farm houses in 35 villages in the district, he said.