Indian Bandit King Finally Dethroned

He was India's most wanted bandit, a brutal smuggler who murdered police officers, slaughtered elephants and kidnapped a movie star. In the end, it took millions of dollars, thousands of security forces and more than three decades to bring him down.

Koose Muniswamy Veerappan (search), 60, was killed in a shootout late Monday with a special paramilitary task force outside a small village 200 miles south of Madras, capital of Tamil Nadu (search) state. Three of his core gang members were also killed, police said.

Relentlessly pursued by security forces, Veerappan had been forced in recent months to leave the dense jungle terrain straddling nearly 4,000 square miles in the southern states of Karnataka (search), Tamil Nadu and Kerala (search), where he was most at home. His death came in a sparsely forested area, far from the center of his power.

"This was the easternmost point he has ever come ... in the last 15-20 years," K. Vijaykumar, head of the 752-member task force, said Tuesday. "It became more and more easy for us to monitor him."

"We watched him for several days" before the final gunbattle, Vijaykumar said.

With his trademark handlebar mustache, lanky frame and camouflage clothes, the flamboyant outlaw had enjoyed a level of celebrity comparable to the screen idols of India's Bollywood movie industry.

He had been on the run since the late 1960s, when he fell in with ivory smugglers. He was accused of smuggling ivory from 2,000 slaughtered elephants and thousands of tons of sandalwood, which is used for oil, soap, handicrafts and furniture.

He had a $410,000 bounty on his head and had escaped capture twice.

Peasants, in awe of his daring and dependent on his handouts, had helped him cover his tracks. Some politicians also were allegedly in his pay, and police said he terrorized locals by stringing up the bodies of suspected police informants from trees.

Some observers were not surprised that he was killed in his final confrontation, given his alleged ties to politicians.

"If they had caught him alive, lots of secrets would have tumbled out," said Abdul Kareem, a retired police official from the southern city of Mysore whose son, a policeman, was killed by Veerappan's gang in a 1992 ambush.

On Monday, police cordoned off the village of Paparapatti after receiving a tip the bandit was hiding there.

An 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 police to the hideout.

Kumar said Veerappan and his comrades were twice offered a chance to surrender. "The response was not appropriate," Vijaykumar told NDTV television news. "We threw stun grenades and opened fire."

He said, however, that some of Veerappan's gang may have escaped.

"This was his core group. There may be a few others," he told a news conference.

News of Veerappan's death was greeted Tuesday with relief.

"It is like the killing of a demon," said Raghvendra Rajkumar, son of Rajkumar (search), one of southern India's most popular movie stars, who was kidnapped by Veerappan four years ago.

Efforts to capture Veerappan were stepped up after his gang in August 2000 seized the then 71-year-old matinee idol, holding him captive in the jungle.

Fans rioted at the news of the kidnapping and Rajkumar was set free after three months under circumstances that were never fully explained.

The gang later kidnapped a politician, who was killed.

Since 1990, state governments had spent nearly $30 million hunting for Veerappan. Armed with assault rifles and machine guns, police had used a global positioning system and helicopters to scour the jungle region.