The 12 men who carried out the Nabha jailbreak Sunday were hoping to free just four of their gang members but Khalistan Liberation Force militant Harminder Singh Mintoo and Kashmir Singh, accused in the shooting of a Shiv Sena leader, decided to join the group after coming to know of the escape plan. According to Uttar Pradesh Police, this is what one of the 12, Palwinder Singh Pinda, who was nabbed late on Sunday in Shamli, disclosed during interrogation. Mintoo and Singh escaped along with Vicky Gounder and other members of his gang, tipped off about jailbreak, militant tagged along Gurpreet Sekhon, Amandeep Dhotian and Kulpreet Singh aka Neeta Deol.
“Palwinder told us that the plan was only to get the gangsters freed. But Gurpreet Sekhon had told Mintoo that they would escape on Sunday. Mintoo was keeping a watch and joined them in the jail corridor,” Daljit Singh Chaudhary, UP ADGP (Law and Order), told The Indian Express.
UP Police arrested Pinda on the Panipat-Kairana city road in Shamli while he was driving the Toyota Fortuner suspected to have been used in the jailbreak. They recovered four rifles from him, including one that was snatched from police in Nabha jail.
Chaudhary said Pinda was arrested in 2013 and lodged in Nabha jail, where he was facing trial for the murder of a policeman, before he escaped this March from police custody during a medical check-up at a local hospital.
According to Punjab Police, the armed men showed up at the main gate of the jail on the Nabha-Channo road at 8.56 am and exited with the inmates at 9.04 am.
Police suspect that the group of armed men and the gangsters lodged in jail were likely in touch over phone. “The armed men were waiting for a signal from inside to enter,” said sources.
As soon as the armed men rushed in, the gangsters reached the jail corridor to find Mintoo and Kashmir Singh already there, said sources.
Asked about the presence of six inmates in the corridor at the same time, Punjab DGP Suresh Arora said, “That is why we are probing the connivance angle.”
Revealing details about the jailbreak, sources said that the armed group — one wore the uniform of a sub-inspector and the rest were dressed as constables — arrived at the main gate with two other handcuffed men in civilian clothes to suggest that they were bringing inmates back from a court hearing.
But as soon as they got down from the car, sources said, they snatched a rifle from a policeman at the entrance and split into two groups, one taking those on duty there as hostages and the other heading towards the jail corridor entrance, 100m away in a Honda City.
The first group remained at the entrance where the other three vehicles involved in the escape were parked, said sources.
Meanwhile, the four gangsters inside, along with Mintoo and Kashmir, overpowered policemen at the spot, snatched a pistol from one of them and shot at the lock to break it open, said sources.
The group then headed back to the main gate in the car firing shots along the way, said an official, adding that the entire group then sped away in the four vehicles towards Thoohi on the Nabha-Channo road.
According to DGP Arora, about 35 rounds were fired during the jailbreak. “Ten more rounds may have been fired because we were told that shots were fired outside the jail, too,” he said, adding that policemen inside the jail retaliated but were not effective.
There was one last twist to the jailbreak, though.
“The gangsters found that the gates of the railway crossing at Thoohi, about 500m from the main jail entrance, were shut. They took a U-turn and headed back on the jail road towards Nabha from where they took another route through the villages to enter Haryana,” said sources.
“The railway gates were closed at 9:05 am and opened at 9:11 am after the Ganganagar-Haridwar train passed through. Every time the gates are closed, it takes about 10 minutes for the traffic to resume momentum,” said the gateman at Thoohi.
Police said that one of the vehicles used in the escape, a Hyundai Verna, was later found abandoned in a village in Haryana’s Kaithal district.
Sources said that video clips from a camera installed in a shop outside the jail show the four vehicles racing towards the railway crossing and speeding back in a few seconds. They show two children stopping near the gate to watch the cars speed out and then running for safety moments later.
The clips also show a gun falling out of one of the cars, said sources.