Early this morning, 8 activists of the banned Students' Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) made a daredevil escape from a prison in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh, only to be pursued and killed by the police eventually.
SIMI, which was banned by the government in 2001, is known for jail breaks, its members having done so twice in the last three years, most recently in 2013 from a prison in Khandwa, also in MP. In its nearly four decades of existence, the group has undergone a radical transformation — from being a gathering of moderate Muslims to becoming labelled as a terrorist organisation.
On 25 April 1977, the Jamaat-e-Islami-Hind decided to form SIMI, with scholars and members from across the country. The ideological character of Jamaat-e-Islami-Hind, which was founded in 1948, had evolved from being Islamist to secular, since it came into existence. SIMI, based in Aligarh, Uttar Pradesh, was a creation of Mohammad Ahmadullah Siddiqi, a media studies professor at the Western Illinois University, Macomb, the United States.
As its founding president, Siddiqi, along with others, adopted the Koran as its constitution and jihad, aimed at protecting Islam, as its way. It's alliance with the Jamaat ended in 1981 during the visit of Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) leader Yasser Arafat to India. SIMI considered the latter as a mere puppet in the hands of Western powers and raised a strong protest against him.
Although the group has a national presence, in states such as Uttar Pradesh, Delhi, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Kerala, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Assam, it did not draw much attention until it was banned by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government in 2001 under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA).
Following this development, many of its members went into hiding, though some, including Safdar Nagori, the secretary general, were detained and arrested on charges of inciting riots and violence.
Security officials believe many SIMI activists have joined the militants fighting Indian rule in Kashmir and crossed over to Pakistan for training in camps run by groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT). SIMI members were believed to have been behind the serial blasts on local trains in Mumbai that killed 187 people in 2006 and 20 others in another explosion in New Delhi that year. In 2008, the serial bombings in Gujarat that killed 45 people were also linked to the organisation.
Although SIMI challenged the ban on its activities in court in 2008, the government has extended it thrice, till 2019, each time upheld by the higher courts. The People's Union for Democratic Rights, a civil liberties organisation, has also appealed against the ban on SIMI which remains with the Supreme Court.
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