- The four men had been taken to the scene of the crime at 3 am
- They were at the spot where the charred body of the woman was found
- Police said one of the men signaled to the others, possibly to escape
In a stunning twist to a crime that horrified the nation, all four men accused in the gang-rape and murder of a young veterinarian in Telangana were shot dead in the early hours of Friday by the police, who claim they had snatched their weapons and fired at them during investigations at the spot where the woman's body was found.
The men, Mohammed Arif (26), Jollu Shiva (20), Jollu Naveen (20) and Chintakunta Chennakeshavulu (20), had been taken at 5.45 am for a reconstruction at the spot where the charred body of the woman was found, around 50 km from Hyderabad. They were not handcuffed, says the police.
The police claim the accused started attacking them with sticks, stones and sharp objects and snatched their weapons, which were already unlocked.
"All four accused got together and started attacking the police party. Officers maintained restraint and asked them to surrender but without listening to us they kept firing. Our officers retaliated," VC Sajjanar, Cyberabad police chief, told reporters.
Moments later, four bodies lay scattered on the ground. Two of them held guns - Mohammed Arif and Chennakeshavulu.
Two policemen in the 10-member team suffered head injuries (not bullet wounds), said Mr Sajjanar.
"The law has done its duty. That's all I can say," the officer said, responding to skepticism. The four, he said, had confessed and were hardcore criminals. Also, "scientific evidence" proved their role, said the police chief.
The bodies were moved after six hours. A huge crowd gathered on a bridge overlooking the spot and cheered the police. Many showered rose petals.
The Telangana High Court has asked for the post-mortem videos to be submitted and for the bodies of the rape accused to be preserved till Monday, 8 pm.
The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) will send a team to investigate the shooting.
The four, arrested a day after the crime, had been in custody of the police since Wednesday.
On November 27, the men, all truck-drivers and cleaners, saw the 27-year-old woman park her scooter near a toll-booth on a busy highway. They allegedly deflated her scooter tyre and took her to a truck yard with the promise of fixing her scooter, gang-raped her, strangled her and burnt her body to destroy evidence.
The woman's father told news agency ANI: "It has been 10 days to the day my daughter died. I express my gratitude towards the police and the government for this. My daughter's soul must be at peace now."
The controversial shooting has divided opinion on an incident has been passionately debated for days and drew people out to the streets in anger.
Several celebrities and even politicians praised the police though there were many voices of caution.
"All women in this country will have a sense of relief after this encounter. They did the crime and later tried to flee from police custody. The police had no option. My question to people who are questioning the encounter is what would be their reaction if the accused had fled," said BJP MP Meenakshi Lekhi in parliament.
Social media was flooded with vastly contrasting reactions.
"The most important thing is the justice should be done through judicial process. In this particular incident we don't know the full details. If the cops were harmed or they were trying to take a gun from the police then police may have been justified," said Congress MP Shashi Tharoor.
In parliament, several MPs had called for quick trial and hanging of the accused. In some emotional statements, MPs even backed lynching of the men for the crime.