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Cops grill tea vendor who gave Usmani Rs 600 to flee

Fifty hours after suspected IM operative Afzal Usmani fled from the sessions court in south Mumbai, cops were still hot on his trail. The police, however, said they were likely to book a tea vendor in Sewri -- a kin of Usmani’s who gave him Rs 600 -- for helping him flee, police sources said.

Afzal Usmani

Usmani, sources said, might flee to Azamgarh, Uttar Pradesh where his wife presently stays after having shifted from Kurla. “We are keeping an eye on all mail/express trains and other modes of transport, and have been checking lodges and hotels. We have circulated his pictures to all police stations,” said Deputy Commissioner of Police Ravindra Shisve (Zone I).

However, another police officer added, “The odds of him visiting his relatives are slim since he is very clever.”

A team headed by Rakesh Maria, chief of Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS), interrogated the tea vendor. Sources in the ATS said, “After escaping from the court on Friday afternoon, Usmani took a cab to Sewri where he met his relative, a tea vendor. The kin was also surprised to see him but Usmani told him he had escaped and took Rs 600 from him to flee the city.”

Tight watch
The Navi Mumbai Crime Branch, Mumbai Crime Branch and Colaba police have also been searching for Usmani since he fled. Police teams have kept a hawk’s eye on his sister who stays in Dharavi, his brother in Govandi and his wife and son in Azamgarh, UP. “We are trying our best to track Usmani and hope we succeed,” said a police officer on the manhunt.

Fled on a spur
Meanwhile, the Navi Mumbai police have interrogated most of the inmates who were Usmani’s companions in jail. None of them had an inkling that Usmani was planning to escape. “If he has taken Rs 600 from a relative, it shows lack of planning on his part. He just took benefit of the opportunity and the negligence of police,” said a Navi Mumbai cop.

The police fear that if Afzal flees via Nepal to Pakistan, he might again become active in IM activities.

Police negligence facilitated Usmani’s escape
Usmani’s escape is a pointer to the colossal negligence with which his police escort handled the terror suspect in court. It has come to light that Assistant Sub-inspector Sanjay Deshmukh of Navi Mumbai police -- who was part of the 10-man team escorting him and 22 other accused from Taloja jail to the sessions court in Colaba on Friday -- asked Usmani to wait in the corridor without anyone keeping an eye on him.

According to Deshmukh’s statement to the police, he told the IM operative in the gallery outside the court, “You wait here, I will return with your warrant.”

“But he did not listen to me and ran away,” Deshmukh told the cops. The police have started an inquiry against him and Assistant Inspector Ram Chopde, both of whom are under suspension.

Astute getaway
Afzal Usmani (37), along with 22 other co-accused from Taloja jail, was being taken to the sessions court in south Mumbai for framing of charges in a case linked to the 2008 Ahmedabad serial blasts, which claimed 56 lives. Usmani is accused of stealing vehicles for the terror strike and sending terror emails.
He was arrested in September 2008 for allegedly stealing cars that were used for the blasts. Based on the information supplied by him, the police arrested the other 22, all of whom were taken to the court in two police vans on Friday. 

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