BHOPAL/HYDERABAD/BHUBANESWAR: The sun rose Monday with news of the sensational escape of eight undertrials of the banned militant group Students Islamic Movement of India [SIMI] from the high-security Bhopal Central Jail. As the police had it, they fashioned knives out of steel plates and spoons, cut the throat of prison guard Ramshankar Yadav, who had just come on duty at 2 am, and scaled the compound wall with the aid of bedsheets braided into ropes and melted into the night.
The eight men were: Amzad, Zakir Hussain Sadiq, Mohammad Salik, Mujeeb Shaikh, Mehbood Guddu, Mohammad Kalid Ahmed, Aqeel and Majid. All wanted for terror activities and bank robberies across dozen states. Some of them had made a similarly sensational jailbreak from Khandwa prison in Madhya Pradesh in 2013. Four of them were recaptured in Rourkela in February.
Their freedom on the lam lasted barely 10 hours. The Bhopal police tracked them down to Malikheda on the outskirts of town, and shot dead. Police said they only only opened fire when challenged, but footage aired on TV channels, apparently of the episode, questioned the veracity of the police.
Apparent inconsistencies in the narration of the events by Madhya Pradesh home minister Bhupendra Singh – who gave out the plates-and-spoons story – and inspector-general Yogesh Choudhary, – who said the fugitives had firearms – gave scope for opposition parties to question whether it had been an encounter after all.
Chief minister Shivraj Chouhan said the National Investigation Agency([NIA] would conduct a probe into it. His government suspended four officials, including the superintendent of Bhopal Central jail.
Opposition parties, Congress and the All-India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen [AIMIM], demanded a judicial probe. BJP leader Siddharth Nath Singh said the Madhya Pradesh police ought to be congratulated for their quick response.
Central security agencies were particularly anxious about the jailbreak as four of the seven SIMI activists were three years on the loose after their escape from the Khandwa jail before being recaptured in Rourkela. During the interregnum, they carried out multiple incidents of terror and bank robberies in Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh.
Their run of activities started with a bank robbery in Karimnagar, Telangana on Feb. 1, 2014, a blast on a Bangalore-Guwahati train at Chennai Central which killed a young software engineer on May 1, 2014 and an explosion near the Faraskhana and Vishrambag police stations in Pune on July 10, 2014.