Chennai: Five men who were suspected to be involved in two major bank robberies in Chennai earlier this year were killed in an encounter with police early this morning. Human rights activists are crying foul over the encounter and have questioned the need to kill the suspects. But police say the alleged robbers opened fire first and so they had to retaliate in self defence and to "save innocent lives."
"The five persons who died in an encounter today were responsible for both bank robbery cases. Close to 30 teams were formed to nab this gang. Acting on a tip-off, a police team surrounded a house in the thickly-populated Velachery area of the city around 1 am and asked the suspects hiding inside to come out," Chennai Police Commissioner J K Tripathy said. He added that the suspects did not follow instructions and instead opened fire. "The police retaliated in self defence and to save innocent lives. Two inspectors and the five suspects were injured in the ensuing encounter. On being brought to hospital, the suspects were declared dead. (Read: Top 10 facts on the robberies)
According to Chennai Police, eyewitnesses have confirmed that these men looted the two banks. It claims to have recovered 14 lakh rupees allegedly looted at gun point from the banks earlier this year. Pistols and weapons in possession of the armed robbers have also been seized, it added.
Two daring daylight bank robberies were reported from Chennai earlier this year. The first incident happened on January 23, when four armed men stormed the Bank of Baroda branch near Perungudi and escaped with Rs. 19 lakh. Less than month later on February 20, another bank robbery took place in the city. This time the target was a branch of public sector Indian Overseas Bank at Keelkattalai located on city outskirts. Four armed men looted Rs. 14 lakh from here.
Both the banks didn't have security cameras installed. But police obtained a picture of one of the suspects, who they believed was the kingpin behind the bank robberies, from the CCTV footage of another bank. He had reportedly gone there to conduct a recce for another robbery.
Yesterday, the Chennai Police released the video footage of the suspect and announced a reward of Rs. 1 lakh for anyone who could provide information about him. They surrounded the house based on a tip-off they got.
Out of the five men killed in the encounter, four are said to be from Bihar and one from West Bengal. According to some reports, one of them is an engineering student. Human rights activists have slammed the Chennai police and have demanded an explanation on why the suspects could not be arrested alive. Some have termed the encounter "a murder." "You (the police) have failed to nab the five people alive and have taken the short cut by killing them. This is a murder. The role of the encounter team and even top police officers should probed," said Henry Tiphagne, the head of People's Watch group.
Just a few days ago, Chief Minister Jayalalithaa had told the police to "treat dacoits with iron fists".
Of the 1,300 odd bank branches in the city, around 420 lack security features such as CCTV and guards. Police have instructed banks to comply with all mandated safety requirements. (With PTI inputs)