Gangster-politician Atiq Ahmed and his brother Khalid Azim alias Ashraf were brought to the Naini jail in Prayagraj, after long road journeys from two separate prisons amid allegations that the former Samjwadi Party legislator would be killed in an encounter on the way.
They will be produced in a court in Prayagraj on Tuesday in connection with the 2006 kidnapping of Umesh Pal, a witness in the BSP MLA Raju Pal murder case, who was killed last month in an attack allegedly orchestrated by the two. The verdict is also likely to be pronounced during the day.
The police cavalcade which brought Atiq Ahmed from the Sabarmati Jail in Ahmedabad around 5.30 pm was followed by cars carrying TV crews, his sister Ayesha Noori and lawyers.
For Ahmed, the 1,200 km from the Gujarat jail took about 24 hours. Ashraf was brought from the Bareilly Central Jail, and his convoy reached an hour-and-a-half after Ahmed entered the jail.
The brothers are also accused of being involved in a conspiracy, while they were both in prison, to kill Umesh Pal, a witness in the Raju Pal murder in 2005.
On February 23, the witness and two policemen assigned to protect Umesh Pal were gunned down in Prayagraj.
The Prayagraj police cavalcade, escorting Ahmed, started off from the Gujarat prison at about 6 pm Sunday in the road journey through parts of Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, and finally Uttar Pradesh.
As he stepped out of the Ahmedabad jail to begin the road trip, the reporters hurled questions about his fears. "I know their programme... They want to murder me." "Hatya, hatya (murder, murder)," he said.
Asked a similar question when the convoy stopped briefly for a toilet break on the way, he said, "Kahe ka dar (what's there to be afraid of?)" Ahmed's sister Ayesha Noori expressed similar fears.
"There is an apprehension of an encounter. He is not a criminal. The cases against him are in court and he should not be termed a criminal," she said.
Vehicles of television crews, his wife and lawyers followed as the police vehicles set off from the Sabarmati Jail. Ahmed and a group of policemen were in a van padlocked from the outside.
The van carrying Ahmed hit a cow in Madhya Pradesh's Shivpuri. The mishap was reminiscent of a 2020 incident when a UP Police team was accompanying gangster Vikas Dubey from Ujjain in Madhya Pradesh to Kanpur.
According to the police version, Dubey made an escape bid after the vehicle carrying him overturned and was shot dead in the shootout that followed. It was suggested by police then that the vehicle overturned while trying to avoid cattle on the road.
Huge police force was deployed at the main entrance of the Naini central jail, and entry of outsiders was stopped. A senior official of the Naini central jail said that Atiq Ahmed and his brother Ashraf will be kept separately in high-security barracks.
They have been brought to Prayagraj in compliance with the court's orders, Police Commissioner Ramit Sharma said.
Speaking in assembly in February-end, Adityanath had lashed out at the Samajwadi Party for garlanding Atiq Ahmed and had furiously made "mitti me mila denge" (will destroy) comment.
After the killing of BSP MLA Raju Pal on January 25, 2005, Umesh Pal, then a zila panchayat member, had told police he was a witness to the murder.
Umesh alleged that when he refused to retract and buckle under pressure from Atiq Ahmed, he was kidnapped at gunpoint on February 28, 2006. The FIR was registered on July 5, 2007 against Atiq, his brother Ashraf and four unidentified persons. The chargesheet mentioned 11 accused persons.
Atiq Ahmed, a former Samajwadi Party MP from Phulpur, was shifted to the Sabarmati Central Jail in Gujarat in June 2019 following a Supreme Court order after he was accused of orchestrating the kidnapping and assault of real estate businessman Mohit Jaiswal while in prison in Uttar Pradesh.
He is named in more than 100 criminal cases, including the Umesh Pal murder case, police said.
Ashraf, lodged in the Bareilly District Jail since July 2020, was brought to the Naini Central Jail on Monday evening amid tight security arrangements, officials said. A police team accompanying him left Bareilly for Prayagraj on Monday morning.
Ahmed was allegedly involved in the killing of Raju Pal, who was shot dead in 2005. Umesh Pal, a key witness in the former BSP MLA's murder case, was gunned down outside his Prayagraj residence on February 24.
On a complaint from Umesh Pal's wife Jaya, a case was lodged at the Dhoomanganj police station in Prayagraj against Ahmed, his brother Ashraf, wife Shaista Parveen, two sons, aides Guddu Muslim and Ghulam, and nine others.
Jaya Pal alleged that her husband was the prime witness in the Raju Pal murder case. Ahmed and his aides allegedly abducted him in 2006 and forced him to give a statement in court in their favour. Umesh Pal had got a police complaint registered in this regard and the case was going on.
The FIR also alleged that a conspiracy was hatched by Ahmed, Ashraf and Parveen to kill Umesh Pal and his security guard Sandeep Nishad and the attack on them was carried out by the former MP's sons and aides.
Two men allegedly linked to Umesh Pal's killing -- Arbaaz and Vijay Chowdhary alias Usman -- were killed in police encounters on February 27 and March 6 respectively.
On March 13, the Uttar Pradesh Police had increased the reward for anyone providing information leading to the arrest of five accused, including former MP Atiq Ahmed's son Asad, in the Umesh Pal murder case from Rs 2.5 lakh to Rs 5 lakh.