Dead men walking: the SIMI encounter was about more than just a jailbreak
The Bhopal Jail break and the subsequent encounter seem to be straight out of a Hindi pulp fiction novel. Eight men, alleged members of the banned Students Islamic Movement of India who were lodged in the high security Bhopal Jail, killed a security guard with an improvised knife on Diwali night while the rest of the city was bursting crackers.
What followed next is even more bizarre. The 8 scaled the 10-12 metre high walls of the prison, and then ran to a village about 10 kilometres away and hid there.
The police, which failed to prevent the jailbreak from a sensitive prison - the first, according to a senior police officer - located the escaped men to the village within a few hours and gunned them in an encounter.
The police say that the 8 escaped prisoners had opened fire, leaving them no option but to retaliate. The police and Madhya Pradesh's Anti-Terror Squad jointly carried out the alleged encounter.
A multitude of questions
In the aftermath of the encounter, several unverified videos have raised serious questions on the veracity of what happened.
One video clip shows the cops abusing and shooting at the escapees even as the hand of one of them is seen moving, showing that he is alive. In another video, the cops are heard saying that five of the suspects, standing on raised ground, want to talk, which could have meant that they were willing to surrender.
The Madhya Pradesh police, meanwhile, maintains that the suspects were armed and that they had attacked the cops. The police says that two .315 bore pistols, two 12 bore pistols and three have been recovered from them. The police also says that they had fired two rounds from the weapons while the cops fired a total of 47 rounds.
It is not clear how these escaped prisoners managed to procure arms within hours of the jailbreak, even as they were found holed up in a rather deserted spot. A local, who spoke to the media, claimed that they had hurled stones at the police.
The walking dead
Those killed in the encounter include Aqeel Khilji, Zakir, Mahboob, Amjad, Saliq, Mujeeb Shaikh, Khalid Ahmed and Majid. All were undertrials facing serious charges against them, including waging war against the state, inciting communal tension, robberies, and planting bombs.
While five of the alleged SIMI operatives killed are from Khandwa district in Madhya Pradesh, three were part of the group who had pulled off a similar jailbreak in Khandwa in October 2013.
While one Abid Beg was immediately arrested after the incident, another operative Abu Faisal, a homeopath from Maharashtra who is said to be the mastermind of the jailbreak, was arrested in December 2013 in Odisha.
Rest of them continued to be at large till at least February this year. Faisal, still in jail could reportedly be the brains behind the Bhopal jail break, too, for police says the incident has striking similarities to the one in Khandwa when the SIMI operatives had scaled the walls of the jail bathroom and fled after attacking two constables.
There's an interesting back story to the alleged SIMI operatives killed in the encounter. It dates back to 2006-2008, when the town of Khandwa in Madhya Pradesh saw a spurt in communal clashes, which would reportedly lead the local police to round up locals often.
Amjad, one of the 8 suspects killed, was first arrested for storing SIMI literature. He was later named in the murder of an ATS official, Sitaram Yadav, who was murdered in Khandwa.
Later, Abu Faisal claimed that kill. Faisal, who has been convicted in the case, reportedly hated Yadav for arresting his wife on charges of being mixed up with SIMI.
Not just Amjad, but Mahboob, another alleged SIMI operative killed in the encounter today, too was named by the cops in the Sitaram Yadav murder beside other cases of attacking RSS and BJP leaders. Both Amjad and Mahbood are from the Ganesh Tilai area in Khandwa where Yadav was murdered in 2009.
Mahboob, according to the police, was also part of the 2008 Gujarat blasts. The NIA has also claimed that he was one of the SIMI operatives who attended a training camp in Ernakulum in Kerala in 2007.
In June 2011, an ATS constable Shiv Pratap Singh was killed in Ratlam in an encounter with suspects of the Yadav murder case. The incident led to a crackdown resulting in cases against alleged SIMI operatives, including Zakir, Faisal, Amjad and Mahboob. Zakir was also among the ones named in the murder of Yadav while Amjad was also charged for a robbery attempt at a gold finance company in Bhopal.
Meanwhile, after they fled from the Khandwa jail, the country's security agencies went on a wild goose chase looking for the four operatives. They were later traced to a bomb explosion in a house in Bijnor thanks to CCTV footage, but they managed to flee.
The case being probed by the NIA reportedly pointed to the involvement of five members including Aijazuddin, Zakir, Mehboob, Aslam and Amjad all of whom had fled from Khandwa jail.
Aijzauddin and Aslam were later killed in an encounter in Telangana in April 2015, which also resulted in the killing of a police constable. The Telengana police had suspected that they were behind the murder of two policemen in Nalgonda two days before this encounter.
The security agencies had also suspected the Khandwa module of being involved in several other high profile incidents, including the Chennai station blasts in 2014, a bank robbery in Karim Nagar and blasts at Farashkhana and Vishram Bagh in Pune in June 2014, beside their involvement in the Bijnor incident.
Mahboob, Amjad, and Zakir, were finally arrested in Rourkela in February after a tip off from the Telengana counter-terror squad, and were kept in Bhopal jail.
Edited by Aleesha Matharu