ATS chief says SIMI undertrials not armed; Nitish, Mamata doubt ‘encounter’ (Roundup)

New Delhi/Bhopal, Nov 2 (IANS) Madhya Pradesh’s anti-terror squad chief Sanjeev Shami on Wednesday stood by his earlier statement that the eight SIMI activists shot dead in Bhopal on Monday were not armed when they were killed.

His comments came as more political leaders voiced doubts over Monday’s “encounter”.

“It is well settled in law when police can use force and take life. These men were dreaded criminals. If the police sees the possibility that such men can escape, they can use maximum force… Even if the police are not being fired at,” Shami told NDTV.

On Tuesday, Shami was quoted by media as saying that the eight Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) men were unarmed when they were killed.

“I stand by my earlier statement,” Shami told the TV channel when asked for his comments.

The eight undertrial activists of the banned SIMI were shot dead in an alleged gun battle, hours after they escaped from a high-security jail in Bhopal.

Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar on Wednesday demanded a high-level impartial probe into the killing of the eight SIMI undertrials.

“A probe is a must into the killing of the SIMI (Students Islamic Movement of India) activists as several questions have been raised,” Nitish Kumar told the media in Patna.

He said the Madhya Pradesh government should order the probe by an independent agency.

“There are many unanswered questions regarding the gun battle and some videos have also surfaced that question the encounter. The state government should explain it,” Nitish Kumar said.

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee also rejected the Madhya Pradesh police claim that eight Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) activists were killed in a gun battle with the police later.

“We do not agree with the so-called ‘encounter’ theory. Many unanswered questions arise in the minds of the people,” Banerjee tweeted.

Banerjee saw political vendetta behind the deaths of SIMI undertrials.

“This is all happening in the name of political vendetta. Issues like these make me deeply concerned about the unity and national integrity,” she said.

Madhya Pradesh’s former Inspector General (prisons), G.K. Agarwal told reporters in Bhopal that he had written to the state’s chief secretary in which the issue of jail security was included.

“The state of Bhopal Central Jail is such that the job of the guards was being performed by the prisoners,” he said in the letter.

“It would be wrong to presume that everything is fine if no major incident takes place. God is helping but it would a mistake to presume that he will continue to offer help,” he had written.

Agarwal wrote the letter in 2013, after SIMI operatives escaped from Khandwa jail. He blamed this incident on the jail authorities.

Agarwal had also sent copies of the letter to the Intelligence Bureau and the National Security Adviser.

Amidst these revelations, Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan on Wednesday inspected Bhopal Central Jail.

Chouhan directed the jail officials to strengthen the security as well as devise methods to make it foolproof.

According to sources at Bhopal Central Jail, the officials had suspected that the SIMI men might attempt a jailbreak and had given specific directions to beef up security.

According to sources, Additional Inspector General of Prisons Sushovan Banerjee had directed the prison officials last month to keep a special check on the SIMI linked prisoners and change the locks of their barracks.

Banerjee had also alerted the prison superintendent and told him to restrict the meetings of the prisoners and keep them under strict watch.

It was also mentioned in the directives to interchange the prisoners, increase security on the outer wall of the prison as well as cut the bushes to increase visibility.

Sources said that after the alert by department officials, special security forces were requested and the prisoners were restricted from meeting, but the rest of the directives were not followed.

On Tuesday, the bodies of the eight SIMI operators were sent for post-mortem in which bullets were found in four of the eight bodies, while the bullets went through the bodies of the other four.

Late night on Tuesday, five bodies (Mehboob, Zakir, Amjad, Akeel and Salik) were buried in Khandwa while while one (Majid) in Mahidpur, Ujjain. The body of Khalid was buried in Halalpur, Bhopal.

The body of Mujib was handed over to his relatives.