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Bhopal jailbreak exposes security gaps in MP’s best-secured prison

Security lapses hit jail authorities in the face after eight members of the banned group SIMI, escaped Madhya Pradesh’s best-secured prison on Monday morning.

india Updated: Oct 31, 2016 21:49 IST
Kalyan Das
Kalyan Das
Hindustan Times
SIMI activists,SIMI terrorists Bhopal,SIMI jailbreak
Policemen at the site where eight suspected SIMI members were killed in an encounter in Madhya Pradesh on Monday.(Reuters)

Security lapses hit jail authorities in the face after eight members of the banned group, Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI), escaped Madhya Pradesh’s best-secured prison on Monday morning.

The high-security central prison in Bhopal had 29 SIMI operatives, all bundled into a single jail after six men from the outfit escaped from the Tantya Bheel central jail in Khandwa district on October 1, 2013.

The suspected lynchpins of Monday’s jailbreak — Amjad, Zaqir Hussain, and Sheikh Mehboob alias Guddu — were among the six who escaped from the district jail three years ago.

Questions arose how these men’s activities went unnoticed despite the authorities having full knowledge of the trio’s previous experience of a jailbreak.

The tactics used in both jailbreaks were almost identical.

On both occasions, the SIMI men used steel spoons, utensils, toothbrushes and metallic tongue cleaners to make crude daggers to attack jail guards. One such weapon was used to slit the throat of head warder Ramashankar Yadav inside the B block of the Bhopal jail between 2am and 3am.

Then again, they made a rope ladder with bed sheets — stringing pieces of wood in between for steps. The technique was used by a self-styled SIMI commander at Khandwa jail.

Read: How SIMI evolved from moderate students’ organisation to banned militant group

The eight operatives in Bhopal made a similar one to scale the 28ft perimeter wall. Questions were asked why no guard or sentry noticed them making such a long ladder because such a tool cannot be strung together in a matter of minutes.

Similarly, keys to get out of the cells were either duplicates smuggled from outside or the prisoners made them using basic objects of everyday use such as steel plates, spoons and toothbrushes.

If brought from outside, somebody must have smuggled out measurements in casts — a bar of soap, for instance.

“They have used the same modus operandi in Khandwa and Bhopal, which speaks volumes about how the high-security prison failed to learn lessons from previous jailbreak,” state Congress spokesperson OP Dhanotiya said.

Warder Chandan Singh acknowledged that the SIMI men didn’t take any keys from slain head warder Yadav. The jailer, as a rule, keeps in his custody all cell keys after dusk.

Another in-the-face lapse was guards posted at watch towers failed to notice the eight men when they were scampering through an open area that separates the outer wall and an 8ft inner barrier between A and B blocks.

The SIMI men are kept in B block, which comprising six sub-cells with each holding three prisoners. Six SIMI men lodged in two sub-cells and two in another escaped, leaving behind a cellmate.

A tower sentry on the outer wall noticed the SIMI men running when they were comfortably away from range. He sounded the alarm before the prisoners were hunted down and shot dead.

“We admit that it was a security lapse. Five jail department and central jail officials were suspended and a probe was ordered. The CM has made it amply clear if anyone from inside the jail is found guilty, strict action will be taken,” home minister Bhoopendra Singh said.

Read: Opposition, BJP lock horns over killing of 8 suspected SIMI activists

First Published: Oct 31, 2016 21:31 IST