Patiala/Lucknow: In a daring daylight jailbreak, six prisoners including Khalistan Liberation Front (KLF) chief Harminder Mintoo, managed to escape the Nabha penitentiary in Punjab on Sunday after armed men in police uniform tricked the sentries into opening the gates and bolted out with the inmates firing a hail of bullets.
Among the escapees was another terrorist Kashmira Singh, according to Punjab police chief Suresh Arora.
However, hours later, the alleged "mastermind" of the daring daylight jailbreak, Parminder Singh, was arrested from Kairana in Uttar Pradesh's Shamli district when the getaway vehicle – a Toyota Fortuner – was stopped at a police picket.
A self-loading rifle (SLR), three rifles and several rounds of ammunition were recovered from the SUV during the search, UP's Additional Director General of Police (Law and Order) Daljit Singh Chaudhary said.
After the six escaped, apparently without facing much resistance from the security personnel, Punjab government sacked two senior prison officials, Superintendent and Deputy Superintendent, suspended ADGP (Jails) M K Tiwari, and formed an SIT to probe the jail break.
It ordered a separate inquiry committee headed by Additional Chief Secretary (Home) Jagpal Singh Sandhu to look into the "security lapses".
"There are two aspects. One is that the jailbreak will be probed and the second thing is lapses. Who is responsible, if there is any connivance?" the DGP said.
Arora said, "The unidentified assailants came in police fatigues and were carrying small firearms." He said they told the sentries that they had brought a prisoner along, tricking them into opening the gates.
He said over 35 rounds were fired but there was no casualty among the jail personnel, who were apparently taken offguard and did not offer any strong resistance.
"The firing was also done from inside the jail. We will see why the firing was not effective," the DGP said and added there is a "conspiracy somewhere".
"Had there been effective firing, it would have been the other way round," he said.
Mintoo was arrested by Punjab police in November 2014 after he was deported from Thailand and was wanted in 10 terror cases.
Meanwhile, a woman was killed when the police, in a tizzy after the audacious jailbreak, opened fire at a vehicle which did not stop at a picket, about 20 km away from the jail.
Chaudhary said Parminder had told his interrogators that the escapees had split themselves into groups and had moved in the direction of Karnal and Panipat in Haryana.
"Following the inputs about the jailbreak, we had apprehension that they (escapees) might try to enter Nepal through the long porous border. We had been informed about the registration number of the vehicle. When we searched it, we found weapons. Parminder has confessed to having organised and executed the jailbreak, he was the mastermind," Chaudhary said.
Chaudhary said Parminder was an accused in the killing of a sub-inspector of Punjab police and had planned the escape with another gangster Prema, who had helped him flee from jail some time ago.
After the jailbreak, security agencies in northern states were put on high alert and Home Minister Rajnath Singh spoke to Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal.
He sought an immediate report on the incident, besides directing the state to step up security at jails.
National Security Advisor Ajit Doval spoke to Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Badal who apprised him of the details of the incident and steps being taken to apprehend the six escapees.
Sukhbir said Pakistan could be behind the incident as it was desperate to revive terrorism in the state post-surgical strike across LoC and assured that the "conspiracy" will be unravelled soon.
The others who fled were gangster Vicky Gaundar, Amandeep Dhotian, Gurpreet Sekhon, Nita Deol and Kashmira Singh, who is also a terrorist.
Mintoo was arrested in 10 cases including the 2008 attack on Sirsa-based Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh and recovery of explosives at Halwara Air Force Station in 2010.
A high alert has been sounded in Punjab and Haryana after the incident with security around railway stations, airports, inter-state bus terminuses and other places of key importance stepped up.
Central security agencies have told the governments of Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Jammu and Kashmir, Uttar Pradesh and Delhi Police to remain on high alert as Mintoo could be hiding in their territory.
Prabodh Kumar, Additional Director General of Police, Internal Vigilance Cell shall head the SIT comprising Paramraj Singh, IGP/Patiala Zone, Ishwar Singh, IGP, Nilabh Kishore, IGP/Counter Intelligence, Amar Singh Chahal, DIG/Patiala Range and Gurmeet Chouhan, SSP/Patiala.
Meanwhile, a Hyundai Verna car was found abandoned at a place in Kaithal in Haryana. One of the getaway vehicles used by the escapees was a car of that make.
Police said the car was locked and had two number plates in front, one above the other. Fingerprinting experts have been called for a forensic examination before the car's doors are opened, they said.
(With PTI inputs)