NEW DELHI: A policeman (left) stands guard outside the Rohini district courtroom in New Delhi after a notorious Indian gangster was killed by gunmen dressed as lawyers in a bloody shootout in a courtroom where three people died.- AFP

NEW DELHI: Gunmen dressed as lawyers shot dead a notorious Indian gangster inside a Delhi courtroom on Friday before police killed the two assailants. Jitendra Gogi, a mobster detained last year, was standing before a judge when two men suddenly opened fire, police said. Witnesses said about a dozen shots were fired during the battle in the courtroom. Gogi was hit up to five times before the fake lawyers were killed by police.

The gunmen were from a rival gang, police told reporters. At least one of the two attackers was also on the Delhi police’s wanted list. The gunfight erupted just after Gogi entered the court for a hearing on murder and other charges. He had been linked to at least 19 murder cases. Mobile phone videos of the shooting showed lawyers and litigants running for their lives in the corridor outside the courtroom as gunshots rang out.

Suits and guns
The gunmen wore grey suits and were posing as lawyers before they pulled out guns, police said. “Two criminals opened fire at gangster Jitendra Mann Gogi when he was taken to the court for a hearing. In retaliation, police shot dead both the attackers,” said Delhi police commissioner Rakesh Asthana. Questions were immediately raised about security at the Rohini court complex, which often deals with hearings of high-profile criminals. Since his capture, Gogi’s protection had been placed in the hands of a police intelligence unit.

But some reports said metal detectors at the court entrances were not working and other security rules were not applied. Delhi Bar Association president Sanjeev Nasiar said the deaths were “shocking” and told AFP that lawyers in all Delhi district courts would go on strike in protest at what he called “a high-level security lapse”. “How can something like this happen inside the court? The police holds regular security review meetings with us and outsiders still managed to enter the premises with weapons,” he added.

Delhi police said only that an investigation would be held into the court’s security. Gogi, who was about 30, had been linked to brutal gang battles, murders, robberies and extortion in Delhi and states across northern India. His victims included a folk singer who had witnessed a murder and a teacher, as well as rival gang members. He was first arrested in 2016 but escaped from police custody, and had evaded capture until last year.

Media reports said he had been in a murderous turf war with other gangs. Police said he had a particular rivalry with a gang leader known as Tillu for control of regions in northern India. Tillu is also in custody but it was members of his gang who were killed in the court, media reports said. The reports said about two dozen people had died in clashes between followers of the rival gangsters over the past decade. Delhi police said Gogi and Tillu had first fought each other when they were students, reportedly around a student body election during which two people were shot, and that their enmity had escalated since.

Indian state hit by protests
In another development, thousands staged protests in India’s Assam state on Friday, a day after two people were killed when hundreds clashed with police over the state government’s eviction of Muslim families from their homes. Assam’s government has faced widespread condemnation over the tactics used to eject the families, with critics pointing to them as the latest example of discrimination against Muslims under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Opposition leader Rahul Gandhi called the police use of guns against protesters “state-sponsored fire”. Police said they were attacked with machetes and bamboo sticks. Assam’s chief minister Himanta Biswas Sarma, a BJP member, said the police were only doing their duty, but halted the evictions on Friday. Authorities had imposed an indefinite ban on gatherings in the northeastern state after a social media video from Thursday’s protests showed police with batons raining down blows on a man.

But on Friday Gandhi’s Congress party organized a rally in Darrang, where the evictions took place, while thousands more took part in another demonstration outside the Darrang district headquarters. Other rallies were organized by student groups, with some burning an effigy of the chief minister. In New Delhi, a dozen students were detained by police as they too protested against the incident.

The viral video from Thursday showed police in riot gear beating a protestor who had fallen to the ground seconds after gunshots were heard. A photographer, hired by district officials to film the evictions, jumped on the man and was seen punching the body multiple times. The photographer has since been arrested, according to police. Leaders of India’s 170 million Muslims say they have been unfairly targeted since Modi’s party came to power in 2014. They say a controversial nationality law that sparked riots in Delhi in 2020, and hate crimes including lynchings, have all increased fear in their community. – AFP