Churches in Chhattisgarh on April 22 held special prayers for the safe return of a top government official abducted by Maoists. Alex Paul Menon, collector of Sukma district in the central Indian state was seized in the village of Kerlapal on April 21. His two bodyguards were murdered. News of his kidnapping triggered a wave of sympathy, fear and anger throughout the state. “We can’t believe he has been kidnapped,” said Father Biju Uppanmackal, a priest working in Sukma in Bastar district, a tribal area under Maoist control. The priest, who says he knows Menon personally, said the official worked for tribal advancement after he took over as collector of Sukma district in January. The 32-year-old official had gone to Kerlapal to attend a government welfare meeting when the Maoists abducted him. Protesting the abduction, local traders shut shops and people, including students, held peace rallies on Sunday. Father Abraham Kannampala, vicar general of Jagdalpur diocese, said churches offered special prayers for Menon’s release and for the souls of his body guards. He said people liked the “dynamic” collector “very much” as he would go to remote villages to study people’s problems. Menon’s deputy, Surendra Kumar Vaidya, who witnessed his abduction, told reporters that around 50 men had come to the meeting dressed as villagers. They killed the guards and told officials to identify the collector. When Menon identified himself, they forced him on a motorbike and sped away. The Maoists have since demanded the release of eight jailed colleagues and an end to the government’s anti-Maoist drive. They have given authorities until tomorrow to meet their demands.