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An encounter trailed by many questions

February 13, 2008

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SAHIWAL, Feb 12: Questions are being raised at the killing of 13 alleged dacoits on Feb 10 at a farmhouse in Chak 133/9-L, Sahiwal. Police claim farmhouse owner Sardar Najeeb Khan along with his security men and relatives killed 13 dacoits in self-defence who had stormed the farm while 12 others escaped. Those killed in the encounter are from a gypsy tribe of Toba Tek Singh.

The district is fast becoming notorious for gang dacoities. Five dacoities were committed in the district last month. It is believed the gang had also struck the farmhouse of Sardar Najeeb and Lumberdar Abdur Rehman on March 15, 2007. Besides looting households worth millions, the gangsters allegedly tortured the families, including women.

This correspondent visited the farmhouse of 45-year-old Sardar Najeeb, popularly known Sardar Bilu, on Monday and found the Sardar talking to reporters and visitors in a composed manner. He said that on the night of Feb 10, 25 dacoits stormed into his farmhouse. They came on a truck and a car. Being already a victim of a gang robbery, he had arranged private security men. He says that before the dacoits could enter his house, he, his security men, nephew Mohsin Khateeb, and Farhan, the son of Abdul Rehman, had taken positions. Soon the dacoits entered the house through scaling over the walls they showered a volley of fire through his 12 bore rifle and other arms. Consequently, 13 of them were killed while 12 others fled on the truck leaving the car at the farm.

The Sardar said the gangsters killed in the encounter had looted his house last year.

Even though the Sardar claims that the alleged gangsters were killed in crossfire, Dawn found there was not even a single bullet mark on any wall of the house. Police claim that pump action and other automatic rifles were found near the bodies.

Among the killed people, one was identified as Anwar, of Toba Tek Singh. But his relatives refused to receive his body, alleging he was killed in police custody. At the crime scene stands a car (LOH-6172), which Najeeb and police claim belongs to the dacoits. The car is damaged due to bullet fires. But the car is parked far from the main gate of the house where, according to Sardar, the encounter occurred. Dawn found the car had been damaged due to the bullets fired from the inside of the car.

The presence of Farhan, the son of Abdul Rehman, at the farmhouse at Feb 10 night also leaves many questions. It is in the air that police arrested the alleged gangsters and handed them over them to Sardar Najeeb and Farhan so that they could avenge the last year robbery.

Another factor that adds to suspicion is the escape of the 12 dacoits on a truck. The route which the alleged dacoits used for arriving at the farmhouse is too narrow to be used for a truck.

Police refusal to handover the bodies to their heirs in Toba Tek Singh also leaves many questions. The tehsil administration buried the bodies in hurry at Mahi Shah Graveyard.

Sources say after hearing gunshots, village watchmen also rushed to the farmhouse and on mobile phones asked Sardar Najeeb about the matter. But the Sardar asked them not to enter the farmhouse. Those who saw the bodies say all the deceased bore bullet marks on chest.

Soon after the ‘shooting’ many robbery-hit families came to the farmhouse to identify the gangsters.

Police say the killed men had struck the houses of Rana Farooq Joiya, of Ghala Mandi, and Shahid Sukhera, of Harappa. Police also invited many other robbery victims to identify the robbers.

Sardar Najeeb is very influential in the area and has a political background.

According to Saddar Deputy Superintendent of Police Sajid Mehmood, gang dacoities in villages are a new pattern of crime. In such crimes, a gang of 15 to 20, all gypsies from different districts, target houses located outside the village and sometimes they rob many families in a village in a single strike. They beat family members, including women, and hold hostage women so that males do not resist them. They also take on the dresses and shoes of the family members and use trucks for transportation.