The Indian government on Monday dispatched six paramilitary battalions and two helicopters to the eastern state of Bihar to help state authorities restore order after a brazen attack on a jail by hundreds of armed Maoist rebels.

On Sunday night an estimated 1,000 rebels belonging to India’s Naxalite movement, an extreme offshoot of Maoism, attacked a district jail in Jehanabad, 50km south of the state capital of Patna.

The attackers freed 341 prisoners, many of them fellow Naxalites, and kidnapped at least 20 inmates who were members of an enemy militia group called Ranvir Sena.

In the ensuing gun battle the rebels killed a prison guard and reportedly murdered the leader of Ranvir Sena, a group that represents the interests of upper-caste landlords.

The Naxalite movement, which is active in six of India’s 28 states, defends the rights of lower-caste peasants. Considered India’s most lawless state, Bihar is the site of rampant caste conflict.

A home ministry spokesman said the central government’s reinforcements would back up Bihar’s efforts to control the situation.

“Prisoners will be retrieved very soon,” he said. “When a co-ordinated effort is made at this level, things do happen.”

The well planned attack was executed when police were in other parts of the state to man polling stations for state legislature elections. The rebels also attacked police lines in Jehanabad to keep reinforcements from reaching the prison.

Chaos at the prison continued on Monday as frustrated police beat with sticks several journalists reporting the siege. Angry members of Ranvir Sena protested over the kidnapping of their comrades outside the prison.

The Indian government has been unable to subdue the Naxalite movement, which has spread in the past five to 10 years as disaffected members of the country’s poor and rural communities continue to join its ranks.

In September the government announced a $365.5m (€312m, £210m) a year package to modernise the police force to tackle communist rebels. The home ministry said this was under way but was a long-term project.

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