Afzal Mutalib Usmani,a key Indian Mujahideen suspect in the 2008 Ahmedabad bomb blasts,escaped from custody Friday after giving police the slip while seated on a bench outside the special MCOCA court in Mumbai.
Usmani,who was lodged in Taloja jail along with eight others,was brought to the court in Kalaghoda in South Mumbai at 1.45 pm. Although surrounded by an escort team of nine constables and assistant police inspector Ramchandra Chopde,he is believed to have quietly walked out of the court without anyone noticing.
As the court has 10 exits and is not covered by CCTV cameras,police have not been able to ascertain when and how he escaped. Chopde and another constable were subsequently suspended.
Usmani was one of the first to be arrested on September 24,2008,for his alleged involvement in sending emails to media houses three days before the serial blasts in Ahmedabad on July 26,2008.
Special Judge A L Pansare had summoned all 23 accused,including four out on bail,to frame charges in the case. The hearing has now been deferred to September 27.
When the court resumed after the lunch break at 3 pm,Mumbai police crime branch officer Ajay Sawant informed special public prosecutor Raja Thakre that they could not get the head-count correct.
Pansare asked the court staff to call out the names and Usmani was first on the list. When the clerk called his name out,it was found he had escaped.
Calling it an unfortunate incident,Pansare asked the police team to immediately inform Colaba Police and sent the constables who had accompanied the accused to search for him.
This is only due to the negligence shown on the part of the escorts. He is an accused in a case of a very serious offence. It will affect the trial, said Pansare. With Usmani giving police the slip,the other suspects feared the case would be further delayed.
According to the chargesheet,Usmani was allegedly in constant touch with IM co-founder Riyaz Bhatkal. He was the only accused to have had two previous chargesheets against him,allowing the police to apply the stringent MCOCA in the case.
He had allegedly provided one of the four stolen cars used in Ahmedabad and Surat to plant the bombs. While he had allegedly owned up to his participation in stealing the vehicle,Usmani had claimed he was not aware of the purpose for which the car was used.
While the main blast trial involving 75 accused is being conducted at a sessions court in Ahmedabad,the accused in Mumbai are booked for their roles in running an alleged IM media-hub.
In February 2013,the Gujarat police had foiled an alleged escape attempt by other Indian Mujahideen suspects lodged in Sabarmati Jail who had dug a tunnel out of the prison.