Indian police gunned down eight Islamists Monday after they escaped from a high-security jail by slitting the throat of a prison guard and scaling the walls with tied-up bedsheets.
The members of the banned Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) had staged the breakout from the prison in Bhopal by attacking a warder with sharpened prison-issue steel kitchen plates in the middle of celebrations to mark the Hindu festival of Diwali.
Police said they were later cornered on the outskirts of the city in the central state of Madhya Pradesh but resisted efforts to take them back into custody.
“We asked them to surrender but they tried to break the police cordon,” Yogesh Choudhary, Bhopal’s inspector general of police, told AFP.
“They were unarmed but attempted to attack the police with stones. We had to shoot them.”
After using their sheets to climb and descend several walls inside the prison, the inmates made their way on foot to a village 15 kilometres (10 miles) south of the city centre, despite a massive search.
Police said local residents had alerted them about suspicious movements in the village, leading to the raid in the late morning.
Thed home ministry had earlier issued a nationwide red alert over the jailbreak while police had released mugshots of the prisoners, asking for the public to watch for them.
Police insist there was no breakdown in security at the prison, a supposedly maximum security facility which has a round-the-clock electronic surveillance system.
However four officials, including the prison’s superintendent, have been suspended and an inquiry launched into the escape.
Most of the inmates had awaiting trial for “terror-related activities, sedition and robbery” for more than three years, although two of them had only been detained since February.
The break-out happened on the night of Diwali, a major Hindu festival when revellers traditionally set off fireworks which can shroud the night skies in mist.
Seven SIMI members escaped from a jail in Khandwa town in 2013 and were arrested last year after being on run for over two years.
Indian authorities have accused SIMI of carrying out several deadly bombings and having links with Pakistan-based militant groups.
Police blamed the group for the serial bombing of Mumbai commuter trains in 2006 which killed 187 people, as well as bomb blasts in New Delhi.
The government banned the group in 2001 in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks in New York and Washington.
Hundreds of its members have been arrested in the past decade, but the group says it merely propagates an “Islamic way of life” for Indian Muslims.