Security agencies in Punjab and Haryana were on high alert after armed men attacked the maximum security Nabha jail in Punjab and escaped with two terrorists, including Khalistan Liberation Force’s Harminder Singh Mintoo, and four gangsters, police said.
In a related development, a young woman was killed as a police team on the Patiala-Cheeka road fired at a car which did not stop at a security barricade. Punjab DGP Suresh Arora admitted that the incident was a case of “mistaken identity”.
Police and security agencies launched a manhunt to nab the prisoners. A security lockdown was ordered along Punjab’s border with Haryana and Rajasthan and with Pakistan. Police in Haryana also went on high alert.
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. Witnesses said the attackers fired at least 100 rounds during a well-planned and executed attack that lasted barely 10 minutes.
Despite several rounds of firing, no one was injured. Official sources said the security in the jail did not retaliate, raising suspicion.
DGP Arora admitted that “conspiracy”, “connivance” and “lapses” led to the incident.
“There were lapses. We will look into the connivance,” Arora told the media outside the jail. “There is a conspiracy as we can see. We will investigate everything.”
He said the prisoners who fled and those who helped them in the jailbreak had driven towards Haryana, whose border is about 30 km away.
“Their location is being traced,” Arora said.
“They (attackers) made the excuse that they have come to drop a prisoner. The sentry opened the gate. They were carrying small arms. In the result, six criminals, including two terrorists and four gangsters, escaped. Their names are Harminder Mintoo, Kashmir Singh (both terrorists); Gurpreet Sekhon, Vicky Gounder, Amandeep Dhotian and Neeta Deol (all gangsters),” the DGP said.
Punjab Deputy Chief Minister and Home Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal, who visited the jail in the afternoon, tweeted: “Pak(istan) desperate to revive terror post surgical strike. Could be behind jail break.
“We will uncover the conspiracy behind jailbreak at all costs,” he added.
The jailbreak has put a question mark on the security arrangements in Punjab ahead of the ‘Heart of Asia’ meet to be held in Amritsar on December 2-3 in which top leaders from various countries are expected to participate.
Mintoo, arrested in 2014 and with 10 cases against him, and another terrorist, Kashmir Singh Galwadi, were among those who escaped.
Mintoo had been to Pakistan a few times and had reportedly got training from the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).
The Punjab government suspended the Additional DGP, Jails M.K. Tiwari. The Nabha Jail Superintendent and his deputy were dismissed from service, Badal said.
The attackers, about 10-12 in number, came in two cars, including a SUV, breaching the three-tier security ring without much effort. A self-loading rifle of the jail security detail was snatched by the attackers.
Security agencies launched a massive search to nab the escaped prisoners. But there was no trace of them even 10 hours later. However, a man, who was allegedly one of the attackers, was arrested in Uttar Pradesh’s Shamli district and a haul of weapons found in his vehicle, police said.
He was identified as Parminder Singh alias Pamma Singh, and was being questioned.
The attack took place when the prisoners were brought out of the barracks for breakfast and other chores, 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. The Punjab government ordered a probe by Additional Chief Secretary, Home, Jagpal Singh Sandhu to look into the lapses leading to the jailbreak.
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,” he 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.”
Several top terrorists, gangsters and criminals are lodged in the Nabha Jail, located about 100 km from Chandigarh.