The Jammu and Kashmir Police have achieved a massive breakthrough in the dramatic escape of the Lashkar-e-Tayyiba commander Naveed alias Abu Hanzalla. All the five persons who helped him at the Shri Maharaja Hari Singh Hospital (SMHS Hospital) in Srinagar have been arrested in a series of raids in Pulwama district, and authorities have suspended the Superintendent of Srinagar Central Jail and initiated the process of removing the entire medical staff from the Valley’s largest prison.
Director General Prisons, SK Mishra, confirmed to The Quint the suspension of the Jail Superintendent Hilal Ahmad Rather, for his “carelessness and dereliction of duty” in the supervision and surveillance of hundreds of prisoners and under-trials, mostly locals and Pakistani militants, and others involved in stone-pelting and attacks on public property.
Jail SP Suspended, Removal of Medical Staff Imminent
SK Mishra said that a departmental enquiry being conducted by a DIG of Prisons Department would find out the circumstances that led to Abu Hanzalla’s passage to SMHS Hospital and his escape from judicial custody, while killing two armed guards of the police. The enquiry would help the government fix responsibility and initiate criminal and departmental action against the guilty officials.
Mishra also said that the Jail Superintendent’s suspension and replacement by an additional Superintendent of Police was ordered on Thursday.
Sources in the police later said that the ASP in Anantnag, Mr Mukesh, had immediately taken over charge of the Srinagar Central Jail.
Director Health Services Kashmir, Dr Saleem-ur-Rehman, said that the government has made it clear that the entire medical and paramedical staff from Srinagar Central Jail should be removed and replaced within next 24 hours.
"We are replacing all the four Assistant Surgeons there. Two of them are already incapacitated. One of them is suffering from Leukaemia." - Dr Rehman to The Quint
He disclosed that the service records of the medical staff posted at the jail were being examined by the administrative department in Jammu, and orders of their attachment and replacement were expected by Thursday evening or Friday.
Naveed’s ‘Helpers’ & Motorcycle Seized
Dr Rehman admitted that many of the Health Department’s officials had overstayed on their postings in Srinagar Central Jail for over 3 to 10 years. “They are sent there on deputation basis. We normally order their replacement if a requisition comes in from the Jail Superintendent. Since no such demand has been received in the last many years, they continued to overstay,” he added.
Highly placed authoritative sources meanwhile said that the J&K Police have identified and arrested all the five helpers and collaborators of the top grade Pakistani militant who aided his escape.
“We have successfully identified them all through the CCTV footage — human and technical evidence — and got them arrested from their respective homes and hideouts in Pulwama-Pampore belt of South Kashmir in a series of raids last night,” said an officer associated with the investigation. He said that the cousin of the dreaded Hizbul Mujahideen commander in Pulwama was among the five detainees.
A motorcycle used to carry Abu Hanzalla from SMHS Hospital has also been seized, though it was not immediately confirmed by the investigators. Additional Director General of Police and incharge IGP Kashmir, Munir Khan, who is supervising the whole operation, was expected to reveal more details at a press conference in Srinagar at 5 pm on Thursday, 8 February.
‘VVIP Treatment’ Given to Prisoners
Abu Hanzalla’s escape has exposed the porosity and vulnerability of Srinagar Central Jail, where hundreds of dreaded criminals and militants stand lodged.
Details are now pouring out about how the high-profile terrorists enjoy “VVIP treatment” inside the state’s largest prison where local jail and medical staff are known to have taken ‘instructions’ from the prisoners and under-trials.
An influential support structure, reportedly active at different levels in J&K Police, Prisons Department, Health Department, Law Department and Prosecution Wing of the State Home Department (that functions directly under the Chief Minister), has ‘crippled’ the system of lodging separatists and high-profile militants in different jails.
It is alleged without contradiction from the government, that the prisoners in Srinagar and other districts in Kashmir have access to SIM cards, smartphones, internet and social media, besides cuisine and visitors of their own choice.
Inmates Living the Good Life
In two raids in the last two years, the police have recovered over 20 SIM cards and smartphones, and even refrigerators placed by private vendors for high-profile separatist and militant leaders from prisoners from Baramulla District Jail.
It has been reported that a murder convict and top separatist has turned into a ‘spiritual healer’ and the jail authorities have placed two detainees of his choice for his service. He is said to be calling his ‘devotees and guests’ without hindrance to his barracks, and giving them amulets and money from a ‘welfare fund’ operated by him from within the jail.
Interestingly, the same convict, noted for his ‘jihadist’ ideology, has done a Masters and Doctorate while in jail, and has been engaged as a ‘lecturer’ by Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU). Last fortnight, he has said in a newspaper interview that he has tutored 150 student prisoners on behalf of IGNOU.
(The writer is a Srinagar-based journalist. He can be reached @ahmedalifayyaz. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)
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