Punjab and Haryana were put on high alert after armed men attacked the maximum security Nabha jail in Punjab on Sunday and escaped with two terrorists, including Khalistan Liberation Force’s Harminder Singh Mintoo and four gangsters, police said.
In a related development, a woman was killed as police fired at a vehicle on the Patiala-Cheeka road which did not stop at a barricade set up to catch the escaped prisoners. Police sources said it was a case of mistaken identity.
The police and security agencies launched a manhunt to nab the prisoners. A security lockdown was ordered along Punjab’s border with neighbouring Haryana and Rajasthan and along the border with Pakistan.
The Punjab government announced a reward of Rs 25 lakh to anyone giving information leading to the arrest of the six prisoners.
The attackers, dressed in police uniform, breached the tight security of the prison around 9 a.m. and fired at least 100 rounds during a well-planned and executed attack that lasted barely 10 minutes, jail officials said.
Despite several rounds of firing, no one was injured. Official sources said the security in the jail did not retaliate, raising suspicion.
Jail officials told police that the attackers entered the prison premises by telling the outer security they had brought a prisoner for verification. Their vehicles were allowed entry.
Mintoo, arrested in 2014 and with 10 cases against him, and another terrorist, Kashmir Singh Galwadi, were among those who escaped from the jail.
Mintoo had been to Pakistan a few times and had reportedly got training from the Inter-Services Intelligence. Gangsters Vicky Gonder, Gurpreet Sekhon, Neeta Deol and Vikramjit also fled.
Punjab Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal, who is also the Home Minister, and Punjab Director General of Police Suresh Arora reached the Nabha jail.
The Punjab government suspended the Additional DGP-Jails. The Nabha Jail Superintendent and his deputy were dismissed from service, Badal said.
The attackers, about 10-12 in number, entered the jail premises in two cars, including an SUV, breaching the three-tier security ring without much effort.
A self-loading rifle of the jail security was snatched by the attackers.
Security agencies cordoned off the area and launched a massive search to nab the escaped prisoners.
The attack took place when the prisoners were brought out of their barracks for breakfast and other morning chores, the jail sources said.
Witnesses heard several rounds of firing around 9 a.m.
“I was going on my motorcycle when I saw 2-3 cars with armed men inside. They were firing in the air and were in police uniform,” a villager told reporters near the jail.
Sukhbir Badal spoke to National Security Advisor Ajit Doval and updated him on the steps taken to apprehend the prisoners and attackers.
The Punjab government ordered a probe by Additional Chief Secretary (Home) Jagpal Singh Sandhu to look into the lapses that led to the jailbreak.
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ADGP (Railways) Rohit Chaudhary was posted as new ADGP (Jails) in place of M.K. Tiwari, who has been suspended. Police formed a Special Investigation Team to probe the incident.
Punjab Congress President Amarinder Singh said “the incident had exposed a complete breakdown of law and order in the state, while triggering fears of revival of terrorism ahead of the assembly elections.
“This has happened with the connivance of the Punjab government. They have got these people out to use them in elections. The shocking manner in which the gangsters walked into the high-security jail and freed a dreaded Khalistani terrorist along with other convicts clearly shows complicity at the highest levels,” Amarinder Singh said.
Added AAP leader and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal: “This shows complete breakdown of law and order in Punjab. Punjab Home Minister should immediately resign taking responsibility of the jail break and killing of innocent girl by Punjab Police.”
The incident is seen as a major security breach and intelligence failure.
Several top terrorists, gangsters and criminals are lodged in the Nabha Jail, located about 100 km from Chandigarh.