India's most wanted bandit, accused of murdering police officers, slaughtering elephants, and smuggling millions of dollars of illegal sandalwood and ivory, was killed Monday night in a jungle shootout with a police team, said a senior police officer in the southern state of Tamil Nadu.
Koose Muniswamy Veerappan, who had eluded police for three decades, was shot to death in a 20-minute gunbattle with a special police task force just before midnight, in a jungle forest, said K. Senthamaraikannan, the superintendent of police for Tamil Nadu state.
"Veerappan and three other associates were killed," said the police officer. "We have recovered the bodies."
He said police had received at tip about where Veerappan was hiding, near the village of Paparapatti in the Dharmapuri region, 300 kilometers (200 miles) southwest of Madras, the Tamil Nadu state capital.
The task force laid siege to a forest area where the bandits were. "We have recovered the bodies," he said.
Veerappan, 60, escaped brief capture twice. Poor peasants, in awe of his daring and dependent on his handouts, had covered his tracks.
A police intelligence official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told The Associated Press that an associate of Veerappan had surrendered about three hours before the gunbattle and led the police team to the hideout.
Police in Tamil Nadu and neighboring Karnataka state had offered a reward of 20 million rupees (US$410,000 or euro328,683) two years ago for information on Veerappan, after he had kidnapped a popular regional movie star and later a politician. The movie star was freed for ransom, but the politician was killed, an act police felt would turn many poor villagers against the bandit.
With his trademark handlebar mustache, lanky frame and camouflage clothes, the flamboyant outlaw had enjoyed a level of celebrity comparable to the Hindi screen idols of India's "Bollywood" movie industry.
Veerappan — whose assumed name translates as "brave" — had been running with his gang of about 20 desperadoes since the late 1960s, when he fell in with ivory smugglers. His turf was dense jungle terrain straddling nearly 10,000 square kilometers (4,000 square miles) in the southern states of Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala. He was accused of smuggling ivory from 2,000 slaughtered elephants.
Since 1990, state governments had spent nearly 1.46 billion rupees (US$30 million or euro24.05 million) hunting him down. Armed with assault rifles and machine guns, police had used night vision goggles, a global positioning system and helicopters to scour jungles riddled with hideouts.
Some politicians were also alleged to be in his pay, and police said Veerappan also used terror to stay on the run — stringing up the bodies of suspected police informants from trees.