A daring jailbreak by suspected members of the Students Islamic Movement of India in Madhya Pradesh’s 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 and the National Investigation Agency has initiated a probe.
HT talks to Madhya Pradesh home minister Bhupendra Singh to get some answers.
Q. If the SIMI operatives escaped towards the hillock area, why were their bodies found at the same spot? They enjoyed advantage of height. Why didn’t they split when police approached them? Generally when such elements are under fire, they disperse to increase the chances of their survival and not getting caught?
A. 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 and how it happened.
Q. How did SIMI operatives manage to get the keys of their cells? Did they have a master key? Did they make a copy? How did they manage to make keys using a tongue cleaner?
A. 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.
Q. How did the SIMI operatives manage to get jeans and shoes in such a short time, when they just crossed the road and straightaway fled the area for nearly 10 kms?
A. 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.
Q. If the SIMI operatives were accused in different cases, why were they kept in the same block with 18 back-to-back cells?
A. 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.
Q. If there were 17 SIMI operatives in Bhopal Central Jail’s B Block, why did only eight escape?
A. 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. Also, there is a very remote possibility that other SIMI men couldn’t be convinced by their plan. Everything will become clear in the probe ordered into the episode.
Q. Police said it recovered seven weapons, four country-made fire arms and three sharp edged weapons from the slain SIMI operatives. Where did they get the weapons and who helped them?
A. 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 evening press conference are the official version of the state government.
Q. How is it possible that on Diwali night, when there was security alert, no one saw eight SIMI operatives escaping from a high-security jail? What about watch towers in the jail?
A. 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 in the jail escape cannot be ruled out.
Q. What about the CCTVs in and around the high-security jail. Didn’t anyone spot anything on the CCTVs? There are CCTVs on many road crossings in Bhopal, keeping tab on the traffic offenders.
A.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 the SIMI men escaped. They very well knew the route from which they had to escape, despite the fact that these SIMI men were seldom allowed to go out of the B block.
Q. Between 3 am when the SIMI operatives escaped and 10.30 am, when the alleged encounter started near the Acharapura hillock, who helped the operatives get weapons and clothing?
A. There was no restriction on clothing of the SIMI men inside the jail. They could have worn it inside or even got them after they escaped. But for sure they got the weapons outside the jail. We’ve formed several police teams to track their helpers who helped them with weapons and other things.
Q. Wasn’t there any intelligence input about the plot of jail break? How did the eight operatives communicate?
A. As per my knowledge, there was no input about the jail break. Though there was a definite intelligence failure in the jail, as no one got a whiff about the SIMI men’s plans and how they managed to make master keys and duplicate keys of their cells made. Everything else will become during the probe ordered into the jail break.