LAHORE: Footage of closed-circuit television (CCTV) appeared to be their best lead as police searched on Friday for Shahbaz Taseer, son of slain Punjab governor Salman Taseer, who was kidnapped in the morning near his company’s head office.
Shahbaz Taseer was driving towards the offices of the First Capital Group off M.M. Alam Road in Gulberg when he was intercepted in what had the hallmarks of a well-coordinated abduction plan.
The abductors who, according to witnesses, used a Prado jeep and a motorcycle, bundled the young Taseer into the four-wheeler and rushed away unimpeded.
Later, a gun supposed to have been thrown away by the abductors was found near a plaza not far from Firdous Market and police said his captors had probably driven Taseer towards the Defence Housing Authority.
A high alert was declared, internal routes and highways were sealed amid calls for swift action by both the federal and Punjab governments.
The Federal Investigation Agency joined the Punjab police in their search for Shahbaz Taseer, yet, as precious minutes passed, his whereabouts remained untraced.The police could not identify the motive behind the crime and nobody had claimed responsibility till late on Friday.
This was the second high-profile abduction within a few kilometres of each other in Lahore over the past two weeks. An American aid worker abducted on Aug 13 remains untraced.
Fahad Rasheed Butt, a police driver assigned security duty with Shahbaz Taseer’s mother, Amena Taseer, informed the Rescue 15 about the abduction at around 10.45am after he was alerted by the staff at the First Capital.
Some eyewitnesses had reportedly told the staffers that unknown men had taken away at gunpoint the occupant of the now abandoned car.
Model Town SP (Investigation) Shoaib Khurram told reporters there were four abductors.
As they took away Shahbaz Taseer, they left his cellphones and laptop and some papers that he had on him behind.
It appeared that there was a 25-minute gap between the abduction and when the police were informed about it.
Footage from a CCTV installed close to Shahbaz Taseer’s offices, which was later aired by a television channel, showed him approaching the spot from where he was kidnapped at around 10.19am. It captured Shahbaz Taseer’s sports car turning a corner and entering the street where his offices are located.
The camera was focussed on that particular spot and the scene of the crime was out of its scope. But it did show another vehicle coming close on the heels of the Taseer car and then hastily backing off. These images created an impression as if the abductors had been waiting for him.
Police said Shahbaz Taseer left his home in Cavalry Grounds for his office in his sports car on Friday morning. He was not accompanied by any of the two Elite Force guards he had been provided. One of the guards was quoted as saying that Shahbaz Taseer had asked him to stay back.
There were suggestions, clearly favoured by a police force under tremendous pressure, which said the security lapse might have been caused by Shahbaz Taseer opting for his two-seater sports car on the day. On other mornings, he preferred to drive to the office in a four-wheeler and would be accompanied by his guard.
The two guards were part of a police contingent assigned to provide security to the Taseer family.
It was learnt that the family, which lost Salman Taseer to his own Elite Force guard’s bullets in Islamabad in January, had recently received threats from extremist groups. The police, however, were not ruling out other possible reasons for the abduction.
Whether the abductors knew that their target was on the day unaccompanied by his guards was a question that continued to be asked throughout the day, getting no answers. The airing of the footage did, however, lead to hope that a bit of rewinding of the recording done through the CCTV could perhaps help the police find a significant lead to the abductors.
Given the sensitivity of the matter, the police were unwilling to share too many details with the media. But an SP did confirm that the suspects had thrown away a gun as they fled towards the Cavalry Bridge. The weapon was picked up by a traffic warden “who failed to” note down the registration number of the vehicle.
Later in the day, the investigators picked up a couple of people in Gulberg for questioning.
Amid speculation if the disposing of the gun could have been a ploy to mislead investigators, Gulberg Circle ASP Fazal-i-Hamid said police were using eyewitness accounts and CCTV footage seized from nearby buildings to establish a lead to the abductors. According to the ASP’s information Shahbaz was alone in the car when he was abducted, while earlier unconfirmed reports said he might have been accompanied by a friend.
Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah said Shahbaz Taseer had been provided an official security detail in addition to the private guards he kept, but he was without security at the time of the incident.
A statement attributed to the law minister said Taseer’s abductors had been trained in Waziristan -- a line that the Punjab government didn’t opt to pursue any further.
Shahbaz Taseer has been looking after a group of companies founded by his father which include the First Capital Securities Corporation, First Capital Equities, Shaheen Insurance Company, Lanka Securities, Pace Pakistan, Trident Construction and Media Times.
A senior employee of one of the companies owned by the Taseers told Dawn the family had received threats for pursuing the murder case of the governor who was killed after he stood up for a Christian woman charged with blasphemy.
He also spoke of some business and property disputes the slain governor’s family had to deal with. He confirmed at least 15 police guards, including lady police, were attached with the Taseer family.
The kidnapping led to a fierce attack by the Pakistan People’s Party on the Punjab government which was spearheaded by none other than Governor Sardar Latif Khosa.
At a press conference where he spoke with emotion about the Taseers, the governor said the Shahbaz Sharif government was complicit in the murder of Salman Taseer and the kidnapping of Shahbaz Taseer, even if on account of their “incompetence”.
He said the provincial government had prior information that warned about plans for the “abduction of a son of a well-known figure” in the province.
The sentiment spilled over on to the roads when PPP workers and supporters staged a protest demonstration against the abduction outside the Punjab Assembly in the evening.
Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif returned to the city from Karachi in the evening to face the prospects of another gruelling search for abductors in a capital that has seen a steep rise in crimes this Ramazan.
On Aug 13 American aid worker Warren Weinstein was kidnapped from his home in Model Town. On Thursday, the Punjab police earned some dubious points when reports about the recovery of Weinstein turned out to be false.
Speaking to journalists in Karachi in the afternoon, Chief Minister Sharif promised to utilise all resources at his disposal to recover Shahbaz Taseer.
Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani called up the Taseers by telephone to show his solidarity with the family and assure them of all-out efforts to secure Shahbaz Taseer’s safe return.
The chief minister went to the residence of the former governor and met his family members, including his widow Amena Taseer and son Shehryar.
He said special instructions had been issued to senior police officers and no effort would be spared for early recovery of Shahbaz Taseer.
Our Reporter in Karachi adds: Speaking at the ‘Meet the Press’ programme of the Karachi Press Club in the afternoon, Chief Minister Sharif condemned the kidnapping.
In response to a question about the kidnappings of Shahbaz Taseer and Warren Weinstein, he expressed deep regret and condemned the incidents in strongest terms.
He said that in view of the concerns of the family of Salman Taseer the Punjab government had provided a contingent of 26 policemen of the Elite Force in addition to Rangers personnel.
He regretted that Shahbaz Taseer was kidnapped when he did not take the security. He said every effort was being made for his recovery. He said the same thing about the missing American national.
He parried a question about Rana Sanaullah’s claim that a Waziristan group was behind both the incidents of kidnapping.