Kashmir police let terrorist walk away
By Yusuf Jameel
Srinagar: The spectacular escape of a top Kashmiri militant while he was being shifted to a hospital hereon Wednesday evening is wrapped in mystery.Gulam Rasool Shah, 47, alias General Abdullah, headed the pro-Pakistani Jamiat-ul-Mujahideen militant outfit before his arrest from a public call office at Gow Kadal, in the heart of Srinagar, following a tip-off in 1997. He gave the police the slip at the main entrance to the Sri Maharaja Hari Singh Hospital here. Police officials said Shah, also code named Muhammad Ramzan Sofi, ran away as he got off an ambulance carrying him and four other "ailing" prisoners to the hospital for a checkup at 2.30 pm. He melted into the crowd and, witnesses told the police, disappeared into the dark alleys of the congested old city in anauto-rickshaw which apparently was waiting for him.
Another prisoner, Jameel Ahmed Sayeed, a former (Srinagar) district commander of the Al-Barq terrorist group, also tried to escape but fell into the police-BSF dragnet again.He was re-arrested from the premises of the adjacent Government Medical College within minutes, the police said.But the incident does not seem as simple as it is being projected. Investigating police officials do not rule out the possibility of a conspiracy that led to this great escape. The eight-member police team,led by head-constable Gulam Nabi and assigned to escort the ambulance carrying prisoners from the Srinagar Central Jail to the SMHS Hospital, is being interrogated to ascertain if they were involved or if there was any connivance. The policemen have been formally arrested and suspended pending an inquiry into their conduct.
"We concede it was our nalayaki (inefficiency) but we have to thoroughly investigate what actually ledto it (escape) before drawing any conclusions," said inspector-generalof police (Kashmir range) Ashok Bhan. He said an inquiry has been ordered into the incident and deputy inspector-general K. Rajendra isto head the investigating team.A senior police officer monitoring the case wondered why the jail officials did not inform the police thatShah was among the five prisoners being taken to hospital. "They wrote us a letter which simply says five prisoners need to be escorted to the hospital for a checkup. It does not mention the names, nor did we know that such an important prisoner was among them," the officer said.
None of the prisoners were handcuffed, police officials admitted.
Investigations reveal that the authorities had already received orders from the state home department to shift Shah to a prison in Punjab for security reasons. He was reportedly on the list of jailed militants whom the hijackers of the Indian Airlines Airbus wanted set free in exchange for the hostages at Kandahar.Mr Bhan confirmed that a local court was scheduled to hear the application earlier filed by the police seeking its permission to shift Shah from Srinagar Central Jail on Thursday itself. Shah, from Kashmiris frontier district of Kupwara, was detained under the stringent Public Safety Act. He stands booked under Sec. 302 and Sec. 307. The charges against him include triggering an improvised explosive device on the heavily guarded Gupkar Road, less than 100 yards from Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Farooq Abdullah’s residence, in January 1997. At least six persons were killedin the blast.
His outfit recently decided to merge with the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, which is accused of being behind the recent hijack. Soon after Shah escaped, vernacular newspapers received telephone calls from a man who identified himself as a Jamiat-ul-Mujahideen spokesman and claimed that Shah was seized by Border Security Force personnel. The caller said Shah was severely thrashed in a Gypsy outside the hospital and expressed apprehension about his safety. "They encircled the ambulance and snatched General Abdullah from the police party," he said. However, police and BSF officials rejected the charge. One of them said it seemed it was a "strategy statement" from the militant outfit. "This also indicates that the outfit knew he was going to do it or at least he himself might have asked someone to ring up journalists to mislead all," another officer said.