On September 20,at 3 pm when Mumbai Crime Branch informed Special Public Prosecutor Raja Thakre inside Special MCOCA court that they could not find Afzal Mutalib Usmani,the 35-year-old alleged Indian Mujahideen operative had already made his first stop at Sewri in a taxi to pick up Rs 600 from a relative.
Though the agencies are tightlipped about his planned escape,what is emerging from Usmanis journey from Kalaghoda to Rupaidiha railway station in the Gorakhpur-Gonda loop at Nepalganj Road,across Indo-Nepal border,is the strong sympathetic network IM has built in the last decade.
Even as the arrest of Yasin Bhatkal in August the latest among over 100 alleged IM operatives now in jails across the country shows a systematic crackdown,Usmanis flight and the pattern of stay at places across states indicates that the old network has only grown stronger,said an ATS official. Usmanis escape also raised the issue of prisoners gaining easy access to phones after agencies found that he had made innumerable calls before his escape.
On the day of his escape,Usmani reached his next stop at Azad Nagar slums,where his sister Sofia stayed with her son Javed Noor-ul-Hasan Khan,around 3.15 pm. He did not spend much time here,but picked up Rs 5,000 from Khan and the duo left for the journey ahead. Khan had taken a fresh T-shirt and some clothes for his uncle. According to ATS,Usmani is believed to have dumped his kurta in a gutter at Dharavi-Sion Road near Mahim slums.
In his new clothes,Usmani first got his beard trimmed at a roadside barber on Dharavi-Sion Road. He then left through Mukund Nagar slums where he got a clean shave.
Usmanis took BEST bus number 356,which had its last halt at Santacruz. Somewhere between Khar and Santacruz,he got into an autorickshaw to Borivali, said Maharashtra ATS chief Rakesh Maria.
Usmani,who apparently developed his intelligence network while in jails,seemed to have used every trick to evade nakabandis. Usmani told ATS that he took a private bus to Surat outside Sanjay Gandhi National Park,Borivali,around 6 pm on September and left the city before midnight. He is believed to have reached Surat at noon, September 21,before he took Avadh Express.
They went to Indore,Bhopal and Jabalpur before they reached Bahraich in UP, said Maria. While Usmani used every technique to escape police in the city,his flight shows that he used Madhya Pradesh,the same state he had used as a base in 2008. Five years ago,Usmani stocked and assembled explosives in four cars in Madhya Pradesh. These cars were stolen from Navi Mumbai,and used in Ahmedabad and Surat bombings. Usmani,then a Fazl-Ur Rehmani gang member and a close confidante of Riyaz Bhatkal,was well networked in Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh,which agencies now feel,are still strong and motivated. His stops were timed to be night-halts with contacts giving him money to proceed with his journey.
This arrest is purely based on human intelligence and its cases like this that reiterate the need to strengthen this aspect, said Maria.
Once in Bahraich,the two camped in Tatera village at the house of Razia Khatun,Khans sister and Usmanis niece. They claim that he gave them versions of stories and kept saying that he had come from Saudi, said Maria.