In a major security lapse, Afzal Usmani, an Indian Mujahideen operative accused in the 2008 Ahmedabad bombings, onn Friday escaped from a special MCOCA court when he was brought there for framing of charges.
Usmani was also allegedly involved in attempts to bomb various targets in Surat.
The IM operative, who was brought to the Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act court along with 18 others from Taloja Central Jail in Navi Mumbai, gave police the slip on the pretext of going to toilet, sources said, adding that a manhunt has been launched to track him down.
Four other accused in the case, who were out on bail, also appeared before the court, which deferred framing of the charges till September 25 after Usmani's escape and issued an arrest warrant against him.
Police personnel escorting Usmani informed the court about his disappearance at 3 pm, following which special public prosecutor Raja Thakre prayed for an arrest warrant, which was granted.
"This is a serious offence. It is negligence on the part of the escort team which brought the accused to court. This (his escape) will have impact on other cases also. It is a very unfortunate incident," Special judge A L Pansare said, voicing displeasure over the incident.
Vicky Nanjappa adds:
The escape of Afzal Usmani is going to prove very costly for the Maharashtra Anti Terrorism Squad whose carelessness let this Indian Mujahideen operative slip out. Interestingly this is the second time he is giving the police the slip.
The first time he gave the slip was in 1999. A ganglord at that time, Usmani was released on bail. However, he jumped the bail and fled to Rawalpindi in Pakistan on a fake passport. He stayed on in Pakistan and met with operatives engaged in the Kashmir battle.
Usmani returned to India after associating with the Jaish-e-Mohammad and assured them to transport arms and ammunition through his contacts in the underworld.
His first association with the Indian Mujahideen was during the abduction of Khadim shoes boss Partha Roy Burman in 2001.
Later he became closely associated with the IM and later during his questioning he told the interrogators that he was providing them with logistical support. The ATS said that through his help, the IM was able to set up its Maharashtra modules.
Usmani was also involved in the theft of four cars that were used to plant bombs during the Gujarat serial blasts in 2008. The cars were stolen and handed over to Mohammad Atif who used them in the serial blasts.
A resident of Mhow in Madhya Pradesh, Usmani continued to help the IM. First he helped them with extortions and then laundered the money which funded the terror outfit.
Apart from this investigations have also shown that he had coordinated with ganglords in Bangladesh to help with infiltrations.
Sources in the Intelligence Bureau say that this loss is costly.
“He was no ordinary operative and had information regarding the funding of the IM. Moreover the locals involved in setting up the modules were under his control. His escape was at a bad time especially when the police have Yasin Bhatkal in their custody. This was the time to cross-verify the statements of both and ensure that the case ended in a conviction. If the ATS is unable to trace him then they would need to try him in absentia which is not a joyful excercise for any investigator,’ an officer pointed out.
Image: Afzal Usmani
With inputs from PTI