In a glaring security lapse, Afzal Usmani, a suspected Indian Mujahideen operative and an accused in the 2008 Gujarat blasts, escaped from right under the cops' noses from the sessions court premises near Kalaghoda in south Mumbai on Friday.
It is suspected that Usmani, who was produced before the special Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime (MCOCA) court, fled when the police escort had taken a group of the accused to the court corridor during lunch hours.
The special court was set to frame charges to begin the trial in the 2008 IM conspiracy case, a parallel probe by the Mumbai police after the blasts. However, since all 21 accused were not produced before court, the hearing was deferred to the post-lunch session.
When the trial resumed, drama ensued in the court room. As a lawyer began presenting his argument, the police escort rushed in and informed the special judge that an accused was missing. The court stopped the hearing and ordered a head count, during which it emerged that Usmani, listed as accused No. 1, was missing.
A massive manhunt was launched but it failed to trace Usmani.
The case has now been adjourned till Monday, and the police will also file a report on the escape when the trial reopens.
Usmani was one of 21 IM members arrested on charges of criminal conspiracy soon after the 2008 blasts in Ahmedabad and Surat.
Shortly after his arrest, he had tried to flee from the crime branch headquarters.
According to the police, Usmani was involved in stealing four cars that were used to transport explosives to Ahmedabad and Surat. He was also charged with planting bombs.
The terror outfit is believed to be behind a series of blasts in various Indian cities since 2005 and used unsecure WiFi locations in Mumbai to send threatening e-mails, minutes before the explosions took place at Ahmedabad and Delhi in 2008.