Two die as Dehli 'monkey man' stalks the slums

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Two people, one a pregnant woman, have died in east Delhi and more than 30 have suffered injuries after police in the Indian capital were bombarded with reports of attacks by a mysterious "monkey man".

Two people, one a pregnant woman, have died in east Delhi and more than 30 have suffered injuries after police in the Indian capital were bombarded with reports of attacks by a mysterious "monkey man".

The attacker, often but not always described as about 5ft tall, wearing a mask and with metallic claws, has been preying on residents of the slums and working-class districts in the east of the city for more than two weeks.

In the heat of the summer, when temperatures even at night are in excess of 37C, many people in Delh seek what relief they can get by sleeping on the flat roofs of their homes. The poor districts also suffer long power cuts, and the attacker or attackers have taken advantage of this to terrify his victims.

A 35-year-old man from Arvind Nagar said: "A strange growling noise woke me at 1am. I could make out the hazy outline of a creature sitting on the roof. He leapt at me and ripped me with his steel claws."

More than two dozen people have scratch marks to show for such encounters, but the rumours of attacks have caused at least as much harm, with terrified citizens hurling themselves from roofs and terraces as the cry of "monkey man!" resounds across the rooftops.

A pregnant 27-year-old woman, identified only as Suman, was sleeping on her terrace when she was woken by the cries of her neighbours. In her haste to flee she fell down the stairs and died in hospital of her injuries.

One man has also been reported as dying from wounds inflicted by the creature to his face, neck and abdomen, but details are sketchy.

Suresh Roy, joint commissioner of police, said: "We have consulted doctors about the bites and they said they were by some animal. The information we have points towards an animal. But we checked with the zoo and they said no animal had escaped."

Prakash Chand, 37, an industrial worker, said he was unsure if it was a man or a monkey that attacked him on Monday night.

"I was sleeping on our terrace and woke up when I heard this strange growling sound," he said. "It was about 4 or 5ft tall, very well built and whacked me hard on my arm."

Angry mobs armed with sticks have taken to the darkened streets in search of the assailant. A garage mechanic dressed all in black was seized and beaten in error by one mob, while in wasteland in the suburb of Noida another crowd grabbed a man "performing mystical formulations" involving hunks of goat meat and beat him before handing him over to police. He turned out to be a harmless tantrik or wizard, trying to help a truck owner recover his stolen property.

Delhi police have issued several portraits of the monkey man, but reports of the creature's appearance have varied so wildly that for once they can hardly be blamed for the epithet "clueless" usually attached to them.

The assailant has been described as being as small as a cat, 4ft 6ins, over 7ft, possessing a halo, resembling an alien, wearing "a green belt with buttons", having springs or rollerskates on its feet, jumping 30 feet at one bound, having a bald or hairy head and being covered either with shaggy black hair or feathers.

Given the strange mental state brought on by the unrelenting intense heat and long and unpredictable power and water cuts, it is not impossible that the whole thing has been brought on by a few actual monkey attacks ­ monkeys being a chronic menace in Delhi ­ and all the rest being the product of collective hysteria. At the very least it helps take people's minds off the weather.

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