Three of the eight cadres, of the banned Islamist fundamentalist group SIMI, who were killed in a police encounter after they escaped from Bhopal Central Prison, were involved in an earlier case of jailbreak in Khandwa in 2013. According to the police, the men killed were "dangerous criminals involved in serious crimes," including bomb blasts and various cases of loot and dacoity across several states.
In a dramatic turn of events, reports surfaced that around 2-3 am on Sunday night, eight SIMI activists have escaped from the Bhopal Central Prison. Police claims emerged around noon the next day that all eight activists have been neutralised in an alleged gun battle at a place called Eintkhedi, 12 km from Bhopal, but questions cropped up over the encounter as a video surfaced later hinting that the shootout may have been staged.
As controversy rages over the encounter, police said the members of the banned Islamist outfit allegedly killed a police head constable with a sharpened spoon, took another guard hostage, broke the gates of their cell, scaled high walls using ropes made out of bed spreads and escaped out of the Bhopal Central Jail early in the morning. The veracity of the video and the glaring loopholes in the police story are all matters of further investigation. However, according to police records, the slain activists were embroiled in several serious cases.
The eight activists were identified as Amzad, Zakir Hussain Sadiq, Mohammad Salik, Mujeeb Shaikh, Mehbood Guddu, Mohammad Kalid Ahmed, Aqeel and Majid, a police official said.
Out of the eight killed, the police said that two terrorists, Zakir Hussain, and Mehboob Guddu were wanted criminals in connection with the 1 May, 2014 blasts on a Bengaluru-Guwahati train at the Chennai Central station which killed a young software engineer. Moreover, both Zakir and Mehmood were also involved in the sensational prison break in 2013, when seven SIMI activists broke free of Khandwa jail and the duo killed in Monday's encounter were arrested only after three years of the incident. Zakir Hussain was also allegedly involved in a series of bank robberies in Madhya Pradesh between 2008 and 2011, when he was arrested, according to The Hindu. Guddu was facing charges in the 2014 blasts in Bijnor in UP.
Moreover, apart from Guddu, two more among those killed were facing charges in 2014 Bijnor blasts. According to a report in Daily Mail, Guddu was allegedly injured in the blast and a CCTV footage showed him being brought to the hospital by Amzad and two other accused in the case. The report also states that another accused nabbed after the blasts revealed that Mohammad Salik alias Sallu was also involved in the conspiracy. Salik interestingly is also a retired constable, as reported by The Hindu.
The Hindu further reports that Guddu was also accused of killing an anti-terror squad constable in 2009 in Khandwa and another ATS constable in Ratlam in 2011.
Another SIMI activist, Mujeeb was facing charges of planting bombs in the 2008, serial bomb blasts in Ahmedabad. Mujeeb, a stone polisher hailing from Juhapura in Gujarat was allegedly an active member of SIMI, and had participated in a Halol terror training camp, according to a report in The Indian Express. In what was allegedly an attempt to avenge the Godhra riots, in which Muslims were targeted predominantly, a series of as many as 20 explosions rocked Ahmedabad on 26 July, 2008, killing 56 people and injuring more than 200, according to another report in The Indian Express.
According to The Indian Express, Akeel Khilji, a resident of Khandwa was an accused in four cases of communal violence in 2006 in Khandwa. The Hindu report also says that he was also facing charges for conspiring the murder of BJP and RSS leaders. Khilji was also charged with Unlawful Prevention of Activities Act.
The lawyers and kin of the accused have raised questions over the encounter and alleged it was staged. According to DNA, lawyers of Mohammad Khalid Ahmed and Akeel Khilji questioned the timing of the encounter as they said the cases against their clients were "very weak." They said why would an accused try to run away when the chances of his acquittal were fairly strong. But these are not the only questions that remain unanswered in the encounter.
Other details of the operation remained shrouded in mystery as well, as Opposition parties suspecting that it may have been staged. A video of the alleged gun fight also appeared on social networking sites which was telecast by national news channels. The short clip, whose authenticity could not be verified independently, shows a policeman shooting at a group of men lying still in a deserted strip. The men, wearing jeans and sports shoes, were said to be the escaped SIMI activists. It also shows a policeman pulling out a knife from one of the dead men.
Congress spokesperson Manish Tewari told IANS that the "facts and circumstances surrounding the alleged jailbreak raise questions". Tewari pointed to the video and said perhaps the encounter was not what the police was making it out to be. "It appears to be a fake encounter. Therefore, this entire matter should be probed by a sitting Supreme Court judge for the truth to emerge."
AIMIM chief Asaduddin Owaisi also sought an inquiry by a Supreme Court judge and termed the entire incident "very surprising" and "shocking". "People who escaped from prison after killing a guard only had spoons. To any normal person, this theory is unbelievable and that is why I am of the opinion a proper and independent investigation has to be done."
CPM politburo member Brinda Karat also questioned the "highly dubious and suspicious and full of self-contradictory statements" of the government. "To get to the truth, it is essential to have an independent probe under a high court judge," she said. Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal also demanded a Supreme Court monitored probe.
However, Madhya Pradesh IG Yogesh Chaudhary repeatedly maintained that all questions raised over the encounter were a matter of investigation as the series of events over seven hours between their escape and killing were still being probed, refusing to directly divulge any more details over the accusations of a fake encounter.
With inputs from agencies