Madhya Pradesh Police said on Monday that they have killed eight activists of the banned Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI), who escaped from the Central Jail in Bhopal early on Monday after killing a guard, in an encounter on forest land over 10 km away from the prison premises.
The eight accused — Amzad, Aqueel, Zakir, Shaikh Mahboob, Saliq, Khalid, Shaikh Mujib and Majeed — were facing trial on several charges, including sedition and bank robberies.
Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan praised the police for their “quick action” and said that he had briefed Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh about the incident. The National Investigation Agency had been asked to probe the matter, he said.
Describing the the jail break as “very serious”, Chouhan also announced the suspension of five jail officials, including DIG (jail) and the jail superintendent, and the transfer of Additional DG (jail).
However, contradictions have since emerged over the official version of the encounter with a minute-long video doing the rounds showing police firing at what appeared to be bodies on the ground, amid shouts of “kill them”. It was unclear who shot the video but State Home Minister Bhupendra Singh said he did not doubt its authenticity.
Senior officers claimed that police started firing only after being shot at by the accused, and that they had initially asked the eight to surrender. Some officials claimed that the accused also threw stones at the police team.
The encounter was also questioned by Opposition parties, who alleged that the gunbattle had been staged and that the unarmed accused “were shot in cold blood”. Senior Congress leaders, including Digvijaya Singh and Kamal Nath, and lawyers and families of some of the accused were among those who questioned the police version.
“I am demanding a judicial probe because even the government must know under what circumstances they escaped. People of the state and country must know how terrorists with such a record were able to escape from such a high security jail and within hours caught and shot dead,” said Nath, a Lok Sabha MP from Chhindwara.
BJP spokesperson GVL Narasimha Rao alleged that the Congress leaders were undermining the morale of the security forces.
“Like they questioned the cross-LoC surgical strike, the Congress is doing the same for vote bank politics. They are undermining the morale of our security forces,” he said.
Police said that they had received information about the presence of the accused near a hill adjoining Acharpura village on the outskirts of Bhopal, adding that the eight were gunned down around 11 am during a joint operation conducted by the STF, the hawk force and city police.
Through the day, the encounter site drew a crowd of onlookers, including local village residents, who raised slogans in support of police such as “Bharat Mata Ki Jai”, “Hindustan Zindabad-Pakistan Murdabad”, “Vande Mataram” and “Atankwad Murdabad”.
Police said that the accused escaped around 3 am after allegedly killing head constable Ramshankar Yadav by slitting his throat using spoons and steel plates and tying up another guard Chandan before crossing a high wall using a rope made of bedsheets.
Several guards were on leave when the jail break occurred, said officials. Jitendra Singh Jadaun, a guard posted at the jail, said he had spotted the fleeing activists around 3 am and informed his seniors. “If I had a gun I would have shot at them. Several guards were on leave because of Diwali but I stayed back because I am planning to take leave for my marriage next month,’’ said Jadaun, 26.
The latest jailbreak comes three years after a similar incident in Khandwa when seven SIMI activists escaped. While one of them, Abu Faizal, was caught two months later, three more were nabbed in Odisha. Two of those activists were killed in an encounter with Telangana Police last year.
Faisal was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment in connection with the killing of ATS constable Sitaram Yadav in Khandwa.
The government had shifted several SIMI activists facing trials in different parts of the state to the Central Jail, citing its modern security system and strong deployment of guards. Police had also stopped taking the SIMI activists for trial to the Bhopal district court and were using the video conferencing facility at the jail instead.