Eyewitnesses on Tuesday came up with conflicting versions of the alleged encounter in which eight SIMI operatives were gunned down the day earlier by the police in Madhya Pradesh’s Khijradev village, hours after they escaped from a high-security Bhopal jail.
When the HT team revisited the village, some villagers said there was firing from both sides that led to the casualties, while others claimed the fugitives only pelted stones at the police.
Police claimed the members of the banned Students Islamic Federation of India were killed in an encounter.
The HT talked to villagers of Khijradev and its nearby Acharpura, Manikhedi, Chandpur and Eintkhedi villages to get their versions of the whole incident.
Sanjay Ahirwar, a resident of Acharpura village said the SIMI operatives were first spotted by a villager of Chandpur, who was watering his fields, around 7.30am.
A police team rushed to the village and confronted the eight near a hillock around 9am.
Ahirwar said soon a gun-battle ensued as the fugitives opened fire at the police and security personnel and started pelting stones at them.
“We were then pushed back by the police so that we were not caught in the crossfire,” he recalled, saying he had a clear view of the incident from behind a huge rock.
Deshraj, a resident of Khijradev village, said the eight raised anti-India slogans and fired some rounds from pistols while also pelting stones at the police, ignoring security forces call for surrender.
Brijesh Mahar, a resident of Acharpura village, however, claimed the SIMI activists though challenged the police, but they did not fire a single round.
He said six were gunned down by the police on the massive rock called ‘Laal Daant’ where they were all standing. Two others fell from the rock after being hit by bullets. Their bodies were also later put on Laal Daant along with other six by the security forces, he added.
‘Not a single bullet was fired by the terrorists’
Manjeet Meena of Khijradev village too said, “Not a single bullet was fired by the terrorists who were standing on the rock.”
He claimed he was at the site till the end of operation at 10.30am.
“They didn’t even try to run away from the spot. They were actually challenging the security forces to kill them,” Manjeet recollected.
Another villager, Sunil Meena of Khijradev village too claimed the SIMI activists did not fire a single shot as they were “not carrying any firearms.”
“They were only throwing stones at the security forces personnel,” he said.
Meena said he was surprised by the police’s version of four country-made pistols were found on the activists.
A gun battle did take place: Sarpanch
Sarpanch of Khijradev village Mohan Singh Meena, however, refuted the ‘no-encounter’ theory, stating that a gun battle did take place that lasted for about 25-30 minutes. He said stones were also hurled at the police.
Stating that it would have been difficult to “kill the terrorists” without the help of the villagers, the village chief said he would claim the reward government had announced on the heads of the jail breakers.
He said after the SIMI activists were spotted in the vicinity, a group of villagers even trailed them for about 1.5km. “At that time one of them threatened us by wielding a pistol.”
He said a police team led by town inspector of Gandhi Nagar police station Jitendra Patel, whom he had tipped off earlier, arrived around 10am. By then the SIMI operatives had reached the hillock.
“After spotting the eight men, Patel fired in the air and asked the escapees to surrender,” the sarpanch said. But instead, he added, the SIMI men fired at the police and pelted stones.
All the eight were killed in the encounter, he added.