Policemen gunned down eight Islamists on Monday after they escaped from a high-security jail by slitting the throat of a prison guard and scaling the walls with knotted bedsheets.
The members of the banned Students Islamic Movement of India had staged the breakout from the prison in Bhopal, India, by attacking and murdering the warder with sharpened prison-issue steel kitchen plates in the middle of celebrations to mark the Hindu festival of Diwali.
Police said the prisoners were later cornered on the outskirts of the city in the central state of Madhya Pradesh, but resisted efforts to take them back into custody and were subsequently shot dead.
“We asked them to surrender, but they tried to break the Police cordon,” Yogesh Choudhary, Bhopal’s inspector general of police, told AFP.
“They were unarmed but attempted to attack the Police with stones. We had to shoot them.”
Choudhary, however, later told reporters that “they had weapons and cross-firing took place”.
TV images showed crude pistols lying next to the bodies, triggering scepticism in some quarters about the Police version of events.
“Security forces have the right to use proportionate force to save lives, but it appears in this case that the suspects may not have been armed,” Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director for Human Rights Watch, told AFP.
“The entire incident should be properly investigated. A take-no-prisoners approach to policing is dangerous and harms efforts to create a rights-respecting Police force.”
After using their sheets to climb and descend several walls inside the prison, the inmates made their way on foot to a village 15 kilometres (10 miles) south of the city centre, despite a massive search.
Police said local residents had alerted them about suspicious movements in the village, leading to the raid in the late morning.
The home ministry had earlier issued a nationwide red alert over the jailbreak, while police had released mugshots of the prisoners.
Police insist there was no breakdown in security at the prison, a supposedly maximum security facility which has a round-the-clock electronic surveillance system.