Sikh commander recaptured after India prison break

Harminder Singh had been sprung from prison in Punjab state along with four other inmates a day earlier.

Punjab, India
Singh was arrested in 2014 and was on trial for 'terror attacks and funding' [AFP]

A top commander of a Sikh armed group was recaptured by police in the Indian capital Delhi a day after he was freed in a dramatic jailbreak by a gang wearing police uniforms.

Harminder Singh Mintoo, leader of the Khalistan Liberation Force (KLF) – a group fighting for a Sikh homeland in Punjab – was freed in an early-morning raid on Sunday by at least 10 armed men.

They stabbed one guard and opened fire before fleeing with the prisoners in cars. Three policemen were wounded in the assault, which prompted a massive hunt for the fugitives.

On Monday, Mintoo was arrested on the outskirts of the capital at a train station about 200km from the high-security prison in Punjab state, where he had been remanded since 2014 on “terrorism” charges. 

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“He was caught near Delhi early Monday and will be brought to Punjab,” A S Chahal, a senior local police official, told AFP news agency.

Four other inmates who also escaped during the breakout – members of a local criminal gang jailed for murder – are still at large, Chahal added.

A $36,000 reward was offered for information on Mintoo’s whereabouts. It was not clear if the bounty played any part in his recapture.

Punjab’s deputy chief minister had said state police were “investigating conspiracy between terrorists and gangsters to disturb peace in Punjab before elections”.

Four officials, including the Punjab prison chief and jail superintendent, were suspended or sacked following the jailbreak.

Armed campaign

Punjab was in the grip of an armed conflict for more than two decades after the 1970s after several Sikh groups launched an armed campaign for an independent Sikh country.

The violence peaked following the 1984 storming of Amritsar’s Golden Temple – the holiest shrine in Sikhism – by the Indian army to flush out armed fighters.

The military operation angered Sikhs, resulting in the assassination of Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh guards and thousands of Sikhs taking up arms to avenge the sacrilege.

More than 20,000 people, mostly civilians, died during the late 1990s unrest in Punjab. 

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Source: News Agencies