SAHIWAL/LAHORE: In what law enforcers described as an encounter with terrorists, the elite Punjab police on Saturday killed four people including parents and their teenage daughter in Sahiwal on Saturday, sending shock waves across the country as one of the surviving children who were witness to the episode denied the official version in a video that went viral on social media.
The ‘intelligence-based operation’ triggered protests by the relatives of the deceased who blocked traffic on the Lahore-Kasur road for hours as the news flashed on television screens, drawing attention of Prime Minister Imran Khan who then ordered an investigation into the incident.
Khalil, a resident of Kot Lakhpat, Lahore, his wife Nabeela, their 13-year-old daughter, Areeba, and their neighbour, Zeeshan, were killed in the firing on their car near the toll plaza on the highway, while three other children in the car survived. Their relatives said they were heading to attend a wedding in Burewala.
Law enforcers claim killing terrorists; one of the surviving children denies official version as street protests erupt; PM orders investigation
Officials of the Counter-Terrorism Department (CTD) said those killed in the shooting were terrorists belonging to a proscribed militant organisation, Daesh.
The spokesperson for the CTD identified one of them as an active member of the banned outfit, explaining that the terrorists used to travel with families to avoid police checking.
The CTD officials said they had to retaliate when they came under fire from those in the car. “A joint IBO (Intelligence-Based Operation) was conducted in Sahiwal by CTD Sahiwal team on joint info of CTD and a sensitive agency,” said the spokesperson for the CTD.
He said four terrorists of Daesh were killed and explosives and arms were seized from their possession. The law-enforcers, however, did not immediately come up with proof corroborating their claim.
As the news flashed on TV screens, scores of relatives of the deceased family took to the streets, blocking traffic on the Lahore-Kasur road to protest the murder.
To ascertain facts, the prime minister then ordered immediate inquiry into the matter.
Later in the evening, Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar directed Inspector General of Punjab Police Amjad Javed Saleemi to ensure arrest of all the personnel involved in the killing of the four persons.
A Joint Investigation Team (JIT) was also constituted under the supervision of Additional IG Police Syed Ijaz Shah to investigate the incident.
Varying versions put forward at different stages following the incident cast doubts over the CTD explanation.
The news broke when the CTD told the media that four suspects were killed in an encounter at the Sahiwal toll plaza near Qadirabad on Lahore-Multan motorway at noon. The officials initially described the shooting as a daring attempt of the law enforcers to rescue a group of kidnapped children from their captors.
However, it was soon replaced by another explanation by the officials who said some dangerous terrorists with links to Daesh were travelling in the car which was intercepted by the police near the toll plaza.
The situation took a new twist when a minor son of the deceased parents, Umair, narrated the firing incident in a video that flashed on television screens in the afternoon. It was actually an amateur video, one of probably many, that made it impossible for anyone to conceal facts about the deadly shooting.
The young boy’s was a horrific account that lent credence to the talk about it being possibly a case of mistaken identity.
He said the family was fired upon out of nowhere as they were travelling to Burewala from Lahore to attend the wedding of a paternal uncle of his.
“My father told them to take the money but spare us,” he said, but the plea had little effect on the law enforcers.
Umair denied that there were any weapons in the car, and spoke of how he and his two younger sisters were temporarily left by the police at a petrol station, some kilometres from the crime scene, after the firing. The law enforcers returned some time later to take the three children to a nearby hospital.
Some witnesses quoted widely by TV channels corroborated the assertion that there had been no firing from those travelling in the ill-fated car. One witness said the elite police forced the vehicle to stop and fired at the car occupants from a close range.
On the day, Umair lost his parents and his elder sister, the little boy’s testimony of innocence was up against the usual official version. But, quite clearly, there was little evidence that could readily cast the four deceased in the firing incident as guilty except for the CTD story that connected them to as serious a crime as the abduction of ex-prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani’s son Ali Haider Gilani and of an American NGO worker Warren Weinstein in Lahore a few years ago.
The CTD officials said Zeeshan was an active member of the banned organisation. “It was in continuation of the operation conducted in Faisalabad on January 16,” said the spokesperson. He said the CTD was tracking remaining terrorists of Red Book belonging to Daesh namely Shahid Jabbar and Abdul Rehman.
This morning, he added, intelligence information was received that they were travelling towards Sahiwal with arms and explosives.
The CTD said they used to travel with families to avoid police checking. “Today, they were warned to surrender but they started firing,” he said, adding that the terrorists namely Shahid Jabbar, Abdul Rehman and their unidentified accomplice fled the scene on a motorcycle while resorting to firing.
The three surviving children and the four bodies were shifted to DHQ hospital of Sahiwal in the evening.
Journalists were not allowed to enter the ward where the children were admitted, while an initial post-mortem examination showed that the deceased suffered multiple gunshot wounds in the upper torso.
In a late-night development, the chief minister reached the hospital. However, the media crew were not allowed to enter the ward where the children were reportedly under treatment.
Published in Dawn, January 20th, 2019