The seizure of a US Army-issue assault rifle from two men in a jungle bordering Bihar has created a flutter in Jharkhand with police saying they would investigate if a network of suppliers of foreign-made weapons was reaching out to Maoists. An NIA team has already reached the state.
A M16 rifle, with markings which identify it as US Army property, was seized on Wednesday by Hazaribagh district police from Praful Malakkar and Anil Yadav, who were held in Chouparan.
Manufactured by Colt Defense, the M16 is the first American-made weapon confiscated in Jharkhand where securitymen have been battling Maoist cadres.
The M16 family, with 80 lakh manufactured pieces, has been the primary service rifle of the US armed forces since the Vietnam War. Efforts are now on to phase it out.
Hazaribagh SP Manoj Kaushik said Malakkar and Yadav, both residents of Bihar, were arrested while a transaction was taking place.
“Apart from the M16, we found a bulletproof jacket, Rs 28 lakh in cash, live cartridges for AK 56 and 47, mobile phones and imported pistols. Yadav was to receive the supply and was carrying Rs 9 lakh. All except a lakh was payment for the M16,” Kaushik said.
It is not yet clear how the rifle came to the suppliers. “It could be someone hoarding a few pieces and selling them at a premium price,” said S N Pradhan, IG (Operations and Intelligence) who is also the spokesperson of the state police.
He said such weapons are something that Maoists look forward to. “They are always looking for weapons that stay true to form, arms that do not malfunction at critical times. There is an uninterrupted supply of crude weapons to them, but maintenance of locally manufactured weapons is a big issue.”
Therefore, care is taken to ensure that at least 20 per cent of weapons in a Maoist platoon are always “good arms.”
“The M16 per se is not a huge threat. An AK-47 will always be preferred by a Maoist. But we have to look into the supply of these weapons,” Pradhan said.