CHANDIGARH: In a sensational jailbreak in the early hours of Sunday, a major pro-separatist Khalistan leader, another terrorist and three gangsters escaped from the high-security Nabha jail in Punjab.
The fugitives have been identified as Harminder Singh alias Mintoo, leader of the Khalistan Liberation Force (KLF), Kashmir Galhari, a militant, and gangsters Vicky Gondar, Neeta Johak, GurpreetSingh and Bikramjit Bika.
Sources said they were sprung by about a dozen men who drove up to the jail in two vehicles, a Toyota Fortuner and a Hyundai Verna. While it was not immediately clear how they gained entry into the jail, sources said they were dressed in police uniforms and claimed to have two handcuffed prisoners to be handed over to the authorities.
Once inside, they opened fire on the guards and made their way up to cell number 3 where the escapees were lodged. Handing over a weapon to Harminder Singh Mintoo, they sprayed over 100 rounds on the security personnel, emerging from the jail as they did so. Jail guards retaliated but could not stop the escape.
Surprisingly, nobody was reported injured in the shootout.
One eyewitness said, “I saw more than a dozen people coining out of the jail firing guns. It seemed as if a Diwali was going on. They drove away with the fugitives. The railway crossing was closed at the time but they went round it.”
Confirming the flight of the prisoners, Punjab director-general of police (law and order) H S Dhillon said the area around the Nabha jail has been cordoned off and a high alert has been sounded. The Punjab Police have alerted the neighboring states of Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and Rajasthan.
According to sources, intelligence agencies had alerted the police to a possible jailbreak. Harminder Singh Mintoo was wanted in ten terrorist cases. He and a fellow KLF operative Gurpreet Singh alias Gopi were deported to India from Thailand and were arrested at the New Delhi airport on November 7, 2014. Gopi was said to have been tasked with assassinating some Hindu leaders in 2013, which the police foiled.
Gangster Vicky Gondar hails from Sarawan Bodla village in Lambi Assembly segment and is a prime suspect in the murder of fellow gangster Sukha Kahlwan. He was arrested in December last year and escaped from the custody of the Ropar police before being recaptured. His gang is primarily involved in highway robberies and murders.
The Nabha jail is a high-security facility lodging top terrorists and gangsters. It has three rings of security apart from electronic surveillance.
The sensational jailbreak of terrorists and gangsters is certain to become an election issue in Punjab, which is due for a general election two months from now. Punjab Congress president Capt Amarinder Singh said the incident has exposed a complete breakdown of law and order in the state, while triggering fears of revival of terrorism ahead of the elections.
“The manner in which the gangsters walked into the high-security jail and freed a dreaded KLF terrorist along with other convicts clearly shows complicity at the highest level,’’ he said.
Acting swiftly after the jailbreak, the Punjab government has suspended additional director-general of police (prisons) M K Tiwari and dismissed Nabha jail superintendent Paramjit Singh Sandhu and deputy superintendent Karanjit Singh Sandhu from service.
Punjab home secretary Jagpal Singh Sandhu has been told to inquire into the incident. “We will have a report in three days,” said deputy chief minister Sukhbir Singh Badal.
The Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has asked for a report on the incident from the state government.