A daring jailbreak by suspected members of the SIMI in Bhopal and an alleged encounter hours later when the police gunned down all eight escaped inmates have triggered many questions. Activists and opposition parties have raised doubts about the authenticity of the encounter. HT talks to Madhya Pradesh home minister Bhupendra Singh to get some answers. Excerpts
If the SIMI operatives escaped towards the hillock area, why were their bodies found at the same spot? Why didn’t they split when police approached them?
Our police tracked the absconding SIMI men in a short time and neutralised them bravely. Nothing more needs to be said on it. The encounter is unquestionable and it will not be probed by NIA. They will investigate only the jail break.
How did SIMI operatives manage to get the keys of their cells? Did they have a master key or make a copy?
Primary investigations suggest the SIMI inmates who were lodged in an isolated anti-terror B block made master keys and duplicate keys of their cells using material like utensils, tongue cleaners and tooth brushes. This couldn’t have been possible without proper planning of 2-3 months. It’s massive lapse in jail security. Role of any jail insider, staff or anyone else cannot be ruled out.
How did the SIMI operatives manage to get jeans and shoes in such a short time?
The eight SIMI men who escaped and were later gunned down in encounter were not convicts but undertrials, who were allowed to wear normal clothes. They lived like VIP guests at their cells and curtains too were put in their cells.
If the SIMI operatives were accused in different cases, why were they kept in the same block with 18 back-to-back cells?
It’s wrong. They were not lodged in back-to-back cells, but the B block comprised six sub-blocks of three individual cells. They were kept in that block due to security reasons.
If there were 17 SIMI operatives in Bhopal central jail’s B Block, why did only 8 escape?
It’s quite possible that only eight might have formed part of the jail escape plot. It’s also possible that the eight SIMI men couldn’t have freed the other nine, as the jail guards entered the block by then. Everything will become clear in the probe.
Police said they recovered 7 weapons, four country-made firearms and three sharp-edged weapons from the slain SIMI operatives. Where did they get the weapons and who helped them?
Yes, weapons were recovered from the slain SIMI men and investigations are underway to track people who might have helped them in getting these weapons after escaping from jail. The statements made by inspector general of police (Bhopal) Yogesh Choudhary at Monday’s press conference are the official version.
How is it possible that on Diwali night, when there was security alert, no one saw eight men escape?
The escape by SIMI men was possible due to a massive security lapse in the jail. Not only security, but also intelligence failure. The probe ordered into the security lapse by the CM will take care of each and every aspect, including why the special armed force (SAF) guards deployed on the watch tower (roof of administrative block) failed to spot the fleeing SIMI men near the B block itself. The jail escape was not the result of planning of a day or two. The plot would have been hatched 2-3 months back, but the jail machinery failed to have any whiff about it. Insider role cannot be ruled out.
What about the CCTVs in and around the high-security jail?
Though I don’t have much information about the internal details of Bhopal Central Jail, but as per whatever information has come to me there was not CCTV installed anywhere outside the jail from where they escaped. They even knew the route which they had to take for the escape.