Facing strong criticism over this week’s killing of SIMI men in an alleged police encounter in Bhopal, the Madhya Pradesh government announced a judicial probe into the reported jailbreak of eight activists of the banned organisation and subsequent events leading to their death.
Justice (retd) SK Pandey will head the investigation into the eight men’s “escape” from Bhopal Central Jail early Monday, and their being shot down by the police at the city’s outskirts hours later, chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan said late on Thursday night.
Earlier, the CM had agreed to a probe only into the “escape” of the operatives, not the “encounter” near Malikheda.
The eight men were said to have jumped the jail at night on Diwali after killing a warder and overpowering a jail sentry. They allegedly opened the locks of their cells and scaled the wall of the high-security prison with the help of a rope made of bed-sheets given to them for daily use. Within eight hours, they were gunned down at Khijradev village, just outside the capital.
The episode has created resentment in the Muslim community. Its members are holding “mass prayers” on Friday at various places in the state, including in the capital.
The government has enhanced security arrangements at the state’s “sensitive” towns. These include Khandwa, where five of the eight SIMI men were buried on Tuesday amid tight security. Amzad, Zakir Hussain, Aqueel Khilji, Sheikh Mehboob and Mohd Salik belonged to that town in the state’s southwest Nimar region. Khandwa is supposed to be a breeding place of the 1977-founded SIMI, which was proscribed in 2001 (shortly after the 9/11 attacks) and then again in 2008 after a brief unban.
The government’s decision to widen the scope of the October 31 SIMI encounter is seen as a possible bid to placate the minority community and stem a potential snowballing of the situation. Till Thursday, Chouhan committed to institute only an NIA probe — it was yet to begin — on the killings that made headlines at the international level.
The government’s flip-flop comes after an apparent non-action by the police. Despite the CM’s announcement that the National Investigation Agency will probe the SIMI “escape”, the police headquarters did not make a request till Thursday to the central government that runs the anti-terror body.
Since Monday, demands had been rising from the minority community, the Opposition and human rights activists who dubbed the encounter “fake”. They had been demanding a judicial probe by a sitting high court justice, not retired. Eighteen Muslim leaders representing various organisations, including Shahar Qazi Bhopal Mustaq Ali Nadvi, demanded a judicial or CBI probe into the “encounter”.
What raised doubts about the authenticity of the “encounter” was the unlikely small 12-km distance covered by the SIMI men in eight hours after “jumping” jail and all of them heading in the same direction. Adding to that came differing versions of police officials.
Three years ago, when seven SIMI men escaped Khandwa jail, they dispersed and moved in different directions — a usual strategy of any fugitive group.
After the Monday “encounter”, Anti-Terror Squad IG Sanjeev Shami said the SIMI operatives carried no firearms, whereas IGP (Bhopal) Yogesh Choudhary claimed firearms were recovered from the men.
A day after the episode, Chouhan dubbed the killed operatives as “terrorists”. The CM, during his Madhya Pradesh foundation day speech on November 1 night, also underlined the crimes committed by them.
He attacked the Opposition leaders, particularly AICC general secretary Digvijaya Singh, and human rights activists who raised doubts over the “authenticity of the encounter”.