Mumbai, Sept. 20: Indian Mujahideen operative Afzal Mutalib Usmani, the prime accused in the Ahmedabad and Surat terror attacks of 2008, escaped this afternoon during a hearing at a heavily guarded special court in south Mumbai.
Usmani, 43, who worked for IM founders Riyaz Bhatkal and Sadiq Sheikh, was brought to the special MCOCA court on the sessions court premises from Taloja jail in Raigad district this morning.
He was found missing around 2.30pm soon after the court, presided over by judge A.L. Pansare on the fifth floor of the sessions court building, reassembled in the post-lunch session.
Special public prosecutor Raja Thakre told The Telegraph: “Usmani was brought in the morning from Taloja jail and was present in the court in the pre-lunch session. But when the court reassembled after the lunch break, I read out the names of all accused and found that Usmani was missing.”
“Usmani was one of the main operatives. He had played a role in stealing the vehicles from Navi Mumbai and planted the bombs in Ahmedabad and Surat.
“His arrest had led to the busting of the IM module. Charges were to be framed against 23 accused today,” added Thakre, who requested the court to issue an arrest warrant.
The charges will now be framed on September 25.
“This is a serious offence. It is negligence on part of the escort team, which brought the accused to the court.
“This will have an impact on other cases also. It is a very unfortunate incident,” special judge Pansare said.
The inspector-general of prisons, Meeran Borwankar, has ordered a probe into the incident. Two constables of Navi Mumbai police have been suspended.
“It is impossible that he ran away from the heavily guarded corridor outside the court. The armed police personnel would have surely noticed him in that case. It appears that he quietly slipped away,” a senior official said.
Usmani was among the five key IM operatives arrested on September 23, 2008, by the Mumbai crime branch, busting what is referred to as the Azamgarh module of the Indian Mujahideen. Mohammed Sadiq Sheikh, who founded the IM along with Bhatkal brothers Riyaz and Iqbal, was among the five held.
A resident of Shivaji Nagar in Govandi in north-eastern Mumbai, Usmani was picked up from Azamgarh in Uttar Pradesh.
His arrest had led the police to 21 others including the IM’s communications module based in Pune which was responsible for sending out threat mails after the Ahmedabad blasts.
Police sources said Usmani had nine criminal cases against him since 1996 when he was active in the Fazlu Rehman gang before joining the IM around 2006. Fazlu’s group thrived on theft and extortion.
In 2008, Usmani recruited Mobin Khan alias Irfan and Amin Shaikh to steal four cars from Navi Mumbai and drive them to Surat and Ahmedabad in two separate trips.
These cars were later filled with explosives and used as bombs. On July 26, 2008, when a series of 20 blasts rocked Ahmedabad, Usmani himself had placed explosive-laden vehicles at a market and in a hospital in the Gujarat town where the injured had been taken.
Nearly 60 people were killed and 200 others were injured in the serial explosions.
On the following day, the police recovered 22 unexploded bombs placed all over Surat city.
Usmani was lodged in an Ahmedabad jail for a long time till he was brought to Taloja jail about three months ago.
He was still in Ahmedabad jail when his younger brother Faiz Usmani, who had a grocery shop in Govandi, died in a Mumbai hospital in July 2011 hours after a police team picked him for questioning regarding the 2011 triple blasts at Opera House, Zaveri Bazaar and Dadar.