Srinagar, Feb 25: For three months before his dramatic escape from the Shri Maharaja Hari Singh (SMHS) hospital in Srinagar, Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) ‘Commander’ Naveed Jutt alias Abu Hanzullah, lodged in Srinagar’s Central Jail since 2016, got a regular visitor from south Kashmir. The visitor would bring food, especially a chicken dish that Jutt liked, to the prison, reports claimed.
Police have since pieced together the sequence of events that culminated in the dramatic escape on February 6, with the crucial role played by the mysterious visitor at the prison, a national newspaper reported.
A report published by the newspaper said that Jutt was taken to the SMHS Hospital on January 30 for treatment and was scheduled for a follow-up visit on February 6. Police suspect the repeat visit allowed the militant to plan his escape.
On that Tuesday morning, Jutt was part of a group of six prisoners being taken to the SMHS Hospital. Each prisoner was handcuffed and accompanied by a couple of policemen. The prison group reached the hospital around 11.30 a.m. and the vehicle they were travelling in stopped at the parking lot.
Jutt then complained of discomfort. While the other prisoners were led into the hospital, the two guards accompanying Jutt waited till he was ready to leave the vehicle. Once the others had entered the hospital, Jutt said he was ready to go.
Soon after he got out of the vehicle, as is seen in the hospital’s CCTV footage, Jutt looks towards someone — an accomplice Hilal Ahmed Rather — standing some distance away. Footage shows him making a ‘V’ sign to Rather as he enters the hospital.
The police now say the sign told Rather that there were only two guards accompanying Jutt. On cue, Rather pulled out a pistol and shot both the policemen — head constable Mushtaq Ahmed and constable Babar Khan.
As the shooting began, Jatt tried to snatch the carbine from the hands of one of the dying policeman. He failed in the attempt, but the police believe that during the scuffle, the dying policeman managed to shoot Jatt in the leg.
As Jatt rushed out of the hospital, a white Maruti car pulled up and the door opened. There were three men inside — Syed Tajamul Islam, M. Shafi Wani and Jan Muhammad Ganai. Jutt got in and the car sped away.
The sniper Rather escaped with two others, including the shooter, Hilal, made away on a Honda motorbike driven by one Shakeel.
The get-away car threaded its way through a “highly-fortified” route, which houses a CRPF camp at Kara Nagar, the Shaheed Gunj Police Station, Old Civil Secretariat, busy Jehangir Chowk, Lal Chowk and the heavily-fortified Doordarshan building near Zero Bridge. When it reached Maruti carrying Naveed reached the bridge 25 minutes later, Hilal Rather was already there, waiting.
There, for reasons not yet clear, Jatt got out of the car and sat pillion between Shakeel and Rather. They drove to Padshahi Bagh, an uptown residential area, where they entered a multi-story house. As they were travelling, another accomplice, Tikka Khan, kept Shakeel updated by phone on the police action following the escape activities that ensued on their escape, as he walked along the 5.3 km route from the hospital parking lot to the Zero Bridge.
From the hideout in Padshahi Bagh, Jatt, Rather and Shakeel drove to Pulwama’s Kakapora area in the same Maruti car. There they stayed the night at the house of Tikka Khan. At the break of dawn, according to the police, some unidentified men from Shopian came to pick Jatt up.
He then disappeared into south Kashmir, appearing later in a ‘photoshoot’ with them and to join local Hizbul Mujahideen commanders —for a photoshoot indicating the high levels of coordination between suggesting more than coordination between the various terrorist groups in the Valley. Jatt went on to post a series of pictures with Hizb commander Sameer Tiger, from their safe haven, The Hindu reported.
The newspaper quoted the senior police saying “It’s a matter of investigation how Jatt got would get the chicken dishes from attendants coming from outside the jail, especially Pulwama.”
The hospital CCTV footage led security agencies to a ring of overground workers in south Kashmir. Five persons — Shakeel Ahmed Bhat, Tika Khan, Syed Tajamul Islam, Mohammed Shafi Wani and Jan Mohammed Ganai — were subsequently arrested. Both the Honda bike and the Maruti car have since been seized. Except for Rather, The National Investigation Agency has been granted custody of all five accused including persons who provided the getaway car and bike, and those who provided stopover logistics in Srinagar and Pulwama., have been given to the National Investigation Agency.
The police believe Jatt’s escape will embolden the leaderless LeT, which had lost all top commanders including known faces, Abu Ismail and Abu Dujana, in counter-insurgency operations last year.
“Naveed who arrived in Kashmir valley in 2012 along with Abu Qasim and Abu Dujana is highly motivated and received training for two years in Pakistan’s Muridke and Mansehra areas and later in Pakistan-administered Kashmir’s Muzaffarabad mountains,” the investigation report said.
A police officer who had interrogated him told The Hindu that Jatt had admitted to using two pistols on a bike to kill policemen in south Kashmir in 2014 and said, “He is an athlete and received his Islamic knowledge from the Darul Uloom Salfia Borivali at the age of 12, reports said.