2016 Nabha Jailbreak: How daring escape triggered wave of terrorism


What unfolded next was a brazen jailbreak that sent shockwaves through the nation.

The jailbreak, orchestrated with military precision, saw these impostor officers open fire at the prisons security guards, successfully freeing six inmates, including notorious gangsters and a Khalistan ideologue.

Among the escapees were Khalistan Liberation Force chief Harminder Singh alias Mintoo and Khalistan ideologue Kashmir Singh Galwandi. It was a crime that appeared straight out of a Hollywood blockbuster.

While Mintoo died of cardiac arrest in custody, gangster Vicky Gounder was killed in a police encounter in January 2017. Gurpreet Singh Sekhon, Neeta Deol, and Amandeep Dhotian were subsequently apprehended. Yet, the repercussions of this escape continue to ripple through India’s security landscape.

The real intrigue in the Nabha jailbreak lies in its profound impact on national security. This event drew the attention of Pakistan’s intelligence agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), which sought to exploit the chaos sown by these criminals for their own sinister purposes.

The ISI reached out to these criminals, offering incentives such as money and weaponry to further their nefarious plans of inciting discord and unrest within the country.

“In 2017 onwards, the ISI started recruiting and contacting the gangsters. Their first recruitment was gangster Harwinder Singh Sandhu, known as Rinda, who was later sheltered in Pakistan. Rinda came to the ISI’s attention due to his fearless activities,” revealed sources.

Hailing from Rattoke village in Punjab’s Tarn Taran district, Rinda’s transformation from a gangster to a terrorist was marked by violence and criminality. His criminal record included murder, extortion, narcotics smuggling, and involvement in weapons and explosives trafficking across the border.

Rinda recruited impressionable youth from Punjab and Haryana to execute terror activities within the country.

In a daring escape, Rinda fled India via Nepal in 2020 using a fake passport. He eventually found refuge in Pakistan, where he formed an alliance with Lawrence Bishnoi and began smuggling weapons and plotting attacks in Punjab.

Their chilling plan even involved targeting a Punjabi singer Shubdeep Singh a.k.a Sidhu Moosewala, known for his links to the Bambiha gang, as a means to incite unrest and spark a Khalistani movement in the state.

While this sinister conspiracy aimed to create turmoil under the guise of religious conflict, it was ultimately thwarted with the arrest of several accused in the murder plot and intelligence agencies investigation.

This pivotal moment led to clashes between the Bambiha gang and the Rinda-Bishnoi alliance, further attracting the attention of Pakistan’s ISI and now Bambiha gang is getting support from them, said sources.

As per sources, it is suspected that Rinda, after the failure of Mohali Intelligence Headquarter attack with RPG, was either killed by ISI or died due to drug overdose. It is also suspected that Pakistan ISI was not happy with his work.

However, the recent arrests and seizure of weapons and drugs by police or other security agencies has shown that Bambiha gang is in constant touch with Pakistan’s ISI and the gang is being operated by its members sitting abroad, especially Arsh Dalla.

“Investigation has also revealed that the proceeds, so generated, are used to purchase new sophisticated weapons which also includes delivery of weapons across the border through Pakistan-based conspirators/associates. Arsh Dalla, coordinates the cross border drone based delivery of weapons with the help of accused Naveen Bali, who further gets them delivered with the help of his associates,” revealed the NIA charge sheet.

“Associates of Bambiha gang, namely accused Chhotu Ram alias Bhat and Jagseer Singh a.k.a Jagga Takhatmal a.k.a Jagga Sarpanch, are also supplying weapons to other gangs. ..Chhotu Ram procures weapons and other logistic support from Lakhvir Singh,” it stated.

“Bambiha gang terrorises people, carries out extortion to procure sophisticated weapons from across the border from Pakistan, to increase their influence. In their urge to increase their areas of influence, the syndicate has joined hands with designated terrorists who work for the Khalistan cause. The accused persons have been raising funds for the Arsh Dalla and Khalistan cause,” it said.

“This has an exact parallel with Mumbai’s underworld which initially used to carry out criminal activities such as murders, shooting of important personalities and businessmen, abductions, extortions, land grabbing, etc.,” it further stated.

“The emerging gangsters — Pro-Khalistani elements nexus….. akin to the scenario that existed in Mumbai in early 90s. The NN Vohra committee formed post 1993 Mumbai blasts highlighted extensive linkages of Mumbai mafia and Pak based ISI prior to blasts. The 1993 bomb blasts in Mumbai and subsequent communal violence in Surat and Ahmedabad showed that Pakistan’s ISI exploited gangster networks in India to stoke communal tension in India,” stated the charge sheet.

“The committee observed that the investigations into the Bombay bomb blast cases have revealed extensive linkages of the underworld in the various business sector and the film world similar to one observed in instant investigation, where music industry of Punjab, Political functionaries, Kabaddi players, advocates, etc., have developed linkages with gangsters,” it said.

(Shekhar Singh can be reached at shekhar.s@ians.in)



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