REPORTING FROM NEW DELHI -- A roadside bomb killed 11 paramilitary officers and wounded 29 Tuesday as they traveled in a minibus in the western Indian state of Maharashtra. Although no group took immediate responsibility, authorities blamed insurgent Maoists.
Video footage showed the mangled remains of the upended white bus in a ditch, its front wheels blown off and windows shattered, with more than a dozen ambulances ringing the area. Officials said the death toll could rise because several of wounded were in serious condition.
Two helicopters were rushed to the scene to retrieve the dead and wounded as security was called in to search the adjoining jungle. Local media said at least 60 people had been detained for questioning from surrounding villages by late afternoon.
Maoists vowed revenge last November after security forces killed one of their top leaders, known by the revolutionary name Kishenji, in West Bengal state. Maharashtra Gov. K. Sankaranarayanan called Tuesday's bombing "the height of cruelty."
The attack follows the kidnapping earlier this month of two Italians, a tourist and a local tour operator, as well as a local assemblyman by Maoists in eastern Orissa state. The Italian tourist was released Sunday, but the other two remain in captivity. The Maoists have issued 13 demands for their return, including the release of their jailed comrades.
The Maoists tend to follow classic guerrilla strategy as seen in Tuesday's roadside bombing, avoiding direct attacks in favor of softer targets, said B.K. Ponwar, head of the Counter Terrorism and Jungle Warfare Training College in eastern Chhattisgarh state.
Explosives are readily available in many Maoist areas, easily diverted from mining operations, experts said. When combined with a detonator, wire, a container and mixed with other explosive material such as ammonium nitrate commonly found in fertilizer, they become a deadly and easily concealed weapon.
"There's nothing the Maoists like as much a vehicle loaded with security forces," Ponwar said. "And with all the communications now available, informers down the road can report that a military bus of such a color with so many forces is heading your way. Then someone standing 50 or 60 meters away just puts two wires together and detonates it."
Analysts said Tuesday's attack follows a period of relative quiet, although the attack-retreat cycle is part of the Maoists' pattern. Strategy among different regional Maoist groups is relatively well coordinated at upper levels, although implementation is often left to local cells, said Ved Marwah, a former police officer, author and analyst with New Delhi's Center for Policy Research.
"Their main target is the security forces," he said. "Their aim is to take over the country."
India's Maoists, known as Naxalites after the village of Naxalbari in West Bengal state where the movement starting in the 1970s, have a significant presence in a third of India's 28 states and are believed to number around 20,000 armed and 50,000 unarmed members. Government figures indicate that over 10,000 people were killed in Maoist violence between 2005 and mid-2010.
-- Mark Magnier
Photo: A member of India's security forces, wounded from a roadside blast in Maharashtra state, is brought to a hospital Tuesday. Credit: AFP/Getty Images