Eight SIMI activists who pulled off a daring prison break and escaped in the wee hours after killing a security guard at the Bhopal Central Jail here, were on Monday hunted down and killed in a police encounter on the city outskirts. All the eight activists were killed by Bhopal Police at Malikheda on the city outskirts, Madhya Pradesh Home Minister Bhupendra Singh said.
The activists of the banned Students Islamic Movement of India had managed to escape around 2-3 AM after killing a jail security guard and scaling the prison wall with the help of bed sheets, DIG Bhopal Raman Singh said.
The activists were identified as—Amzad, Zakir Hussain Sadiq, Mohammad Salik, Mujeeb Shaikh, Mehbood Guddu, Mohammad Kalid Ahmed, Aqeel and Majid, a police official said.
State govt suspends 4 police officials
Soon after the incident, the state government released their sketches and suspended four officials including Jail Superintendent Akhilesh Tomar. It had also announced a reward of Rs 5 lakh each on the heads of the activists.
Second major jail break in 3 years
This is the second major jail break by operatives of banned SIMI in three years after the sensational escape by seven members of the group from a jail in Khandwa in Madhya Pradesh in 2013.
The central security agencies were particularly anxious as four of the seven SIMI activities, who escaped from a jail in Khandwa October 1, 2013, could be arrested only after three years and during the period of their hiding, the militants were involved in multiple incidents of terror and a bank robbery.
While in hiding, the SIMI men were allegedly involved in terror activities in several states including Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh. SIMI was banned by the government in 2001.
Unverified videos emerge
Questions cropped up over the encounter of the eight SIMI activists who were on Monday killed in an alleged encounter with police on the outskirts of the city hours after they escaped from the high-security Bhopal Central Jail killing a security guard.
As a controversy raged over the police action after the daring pre-dawn jail-break, TV channels showed unverified footage purportedly from the encounter site in which a policeman is seen pumping bullets into a man from close range after some unidentified person takes out what appears to be a knife said to be in a plastic cover and places it back.
Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan said an NIA probe will be conducted into the prison break here to trace the possible international links of the eight SIMI activists killed in a police encounter hours after they escaped from Central Jail.
“I had a talk with Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh because these terrorists have links not only in the state but in India and the world,” Chouhan said.
“Therefore, this is not a case pertaining to the state. I spoke to Rajnath Singh and he also agreed that this incident should be probed by NIA to expose the entire links behind it,” the Chief Minister added.
Opposition, BJP lock horns
Congress and other opposition parties demanded a judicial probe into the Bhopal encounter, while BJP accused them of undermining the morale of security forces by raising questions over its authenticity.
Congress and CPI-M sought a judicial probe so people get to know the truth, but the BJP accused the Congress of coming in support of SIMI activists and politicising the incident.
“I am demanding a judicial probe because even the government must know under what circumstances they escaped. People of the state and country must know how terrorists with with such a record were able to escape from such a high security jail and within hours caught and shot dead,” Congress leader Kamal Nath, a Lok Sabha MP from Madhya Pradesh, said.
Coming out in defence of the police action, BJP spokesperson GVL Narasimha Rao accused the Congress of batting for terrorists belonging to SIMI the way it had done for LeT in the past. He alleged leaders of the Congress were undermining the morale of the security forces.
“Congress, like they questioned the cross-LoC surgical strike, they are doing the same again for vote bank politics. They are undermining the morale of our security forces,” he said.
“I don’t think why Congress wants to speak up for such individuals. Politicising the encounter is certainy not a done thing. But Congress party has done this for a long time.”
“Looking at the way Congress is politicising the encounter, and that too concerning the particular group or organisation, is a matter of concern. Congress seems to raise concern only when LeT terrorists are killed and when SIMI activists who are convicted and involved in jailbreak. Congress party springing to their defence raises curiosity,” he said.
CPI-M’s Brinda Karat termed the official version of the incident as “highly dubious and suspicious”. She said the versions of state government and police were “contradictory”.
“Therefore, to get to the truth, it is essential to have an independent probe under a high court judge and should be time-bound because nobody can believe what seems to be a highly manufactured version,” she said. Karat said those killed were undertrials and dubbing them as terrorists amounted to “subverting the law”.
Amid clamour for a probe by the opposition parties, Madhya Pradesh Police today asserted that the eight SIMI activists, who escaped from a prison here, were “killed during an encounter,” without elaborating on the details of the operation.
“Soon after they escaped from the jail by killing head constable Ramashankar and by tying another warden Chandan, the eight SIMI terrorists identified as Sheikh Mehboob, Amzad, Zakir Hussain, Mohammad Saliq, Majid, Khalid Ahmed, Aqueel and Sheikh Najeeb were killed in an encounter with the police at Manikheda Pathar near Eintkhedi village,” a statement issued by the Police Headquarters said.
IG Yogesh Choudhary said the fleeing SIMI activists had weapons in possession and opened fire when confronted and the police fired in retaliation.