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Escaped Islamist prisoners shot dead in India: police

Eight suspected Islamists have been killed after they escaped from a high-security jail in the central city of Bhopal. Police said they resisted efforts to return them to prison.

The eight men killed were members of the banned Students' Islamic Movement of India (SIMI), which says it aims to liberate the South Asian country from materialistic values.

They were shot dead on Monday, hours after their breakout from a high-security prison in Madhya Pradesh state on the night of the major Hindu festival of Diwali.

As they made their way out of the jail, they used steel plates and glass shards to slit the throat of a guard, officials said.

They then managed to scale several walls inside the prison by tying together bed sheets.

After a massive search operation, police said they tracked down the suspects to a village about 15 kilometers (10 miles) south of Bhopal, and a gunfight ensued.

"They fired on police and our teams retaliated in defense. All eight were killed in crossfire," said Yogesh Chaudhary, Bhopal's inspector general of police.

Inquiry begins

Police insist there was no security lapse at the prison due to the Diwali holiday. But within hours of the jailbreak, four officials, including the jail's superintendent, were suspended and an inquiry launched.

Some of the dead inmates had been awaiting trial for three years over alleged "terror-related activities," although two of them had only been detained since February. 

SIMI, which has been blamed for several deadly attacks and accused of links to Pakistan-based militant groups, was banned in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks on the US in 2001. Hundreds of its members have been arrested over the past decade.

Indian authorities insist the group was behind the serial bombing of Mumbai commuter trains in 2006, which killed 187 people, as well as bomb blasts in New Delhi.

mm/tj (AFP, dpa, PTI)