In a major security lapse, Afzal Usmani, an Indian Mujahideen operative accused in the 2008 Ahmedabad bombings, today escaped from a special MCOCA court when he was brought there for framing of charges.
Usmani was also allegedly involved in attempts to bomb various targets in Surat.
The IM operative, who was brought to the Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act (MCOCA) court along with 18 others from Taloja Central Jail in Navi Mumbai, gave police the slip on the pretext of going to toilet, sources said, adding that a manhunt has been launched to track him down.
Four other accused in the case, who were out on bail, also appeared before the court, which deferred framing of the charges till September 25 after Usmani's escape and issued an arrest warrant against him.
Police personnel escorting Usmani informed the court about his disappearance at 3 PM, following which special public prosecutor Raja Thakre prayed for an arrest warrant, which was granted.
"This is a serious offence. It is negligence on the part of the escort team which brought the accused to court. This (his escape) will have impact on other cases also. It is a very unfortunate incident," Special judge A L Pansare said, voicing displeasure over the incident.
According to police, Usmani was involved in stealing four cars which were used to transport explosives to Ahmedabad and Surat. He was also charged with planting bombs.
A series of 21 bomb blasts had rocked Ahmedabad on July 26, 2008, within a span of 70 minutes, killing 56 people and wounding over 200.
Some bombs were planted in tiffin carriers on bicycles. Many of the blasts targeted the city bus service, ripping apart portions of the vehicles. Two blasts took place inside the premises of two hospitals, about 40 minutes after the initial series of blasts.
26 unexploded bombs were found at different locations in Surat between July 28 and 30. Two cars filled with material required for making explosives and detonators were found parked on the roadside near a hospital and other on outskirts of Surat.
In e-mail messages to some TV channels, the home-grown terror outfit had claimed responsibility for the blasts.
Meanwhile, Navi Mumbai police have suspended two policemen who escorted eight Indian Mujahideen terror suspects, including Usmani, to the court from Taloja jail in Navi Mumbai.
A team of 10 policemen, headed by Assistant Police Inspector P Chopade, had taken them to the court.
"Chopade and Assistant Sub-Inspector D Deshmukh, whose duty was to take care of Usmani, were suspended," a senior Navi Mumbai police officer told PTI.
The city's Colaba Police have registered an FIR against Usmani under IPC section 224 (Resistance or obstruction by a person to his lawful apprehension).