LAHORE - Three gangsters wanted to police in robbery-cum-gang-rape cases were shot and killed by police in district Sargodha last week. Another four members of this gang have already been killed in a similar shootout with policemen somewhere in the Punjab province in 2016.

The latest incident of extrajudicial killings, also dubbed here as fake police encounters, took place in the Cantonment police precincts in district Sargodha late night on February 9. The bullet riddled bodies were sent to the morgue.

However, no policeman was hurt during the crossfire which lasted for more than 40 minutes. According to police claim, elite commandoes and patrolling police units took part in the operation. Police and gangsters exchanged heavy gunfire involving automatic weapons. As per police version, “After 30-40 minutes of exchange of firing all of them (three criminals) were found dead.”

The dead were named by police as Nassir alias Adil, Ansar son of Dil Meer, and Tanvir son of Bashir. All the three gangsters were said to be the residents of Sargodha district. According to the district police, it was a seven-member gang of hardened criminals. These gangsters used to commit gang-rape during house robberies. Four members of this gang had been killed during an ‘encounter’ in the same district last year.

Police officers say they believe a chapter of “brutal crimes” has been closed with the latest killings of hardened criminals, who had become a symbol of terror and fear in different Punjab districts.

Most-wanted criminals, when captured, are frequently killed in staged shootouts. Four types of criminals, as a matter of principle, are killed in police action. The robbers-cum-rapists and those found involved in dacoity-cum-murder cases. Similarly, the criminals involved in firing on policemen and those who kill the victims after accepting ransom money have to face the “police justice.”

For an instance, the provincial police killed as many as 340 criminals in similar ‘encounters’ across the Punjab province during the previous year. In 2015, at least 457 criminals had been killed in such shootings with policemen. The Punjab police last year witnessed a reasonable increase in the cases of rape, gang rape and abductions. At least 223 cases of gang rape were reported by police in 2016 across the province.

There was no let-up in the incidents of heinous crimes in Punjab where police kill hundreds of criminals every year. Despite large-scale extrajudicial killings, the province observed at least six percent rise in the overall crime rate in 2016.

On the other hand, robbers continued their looting spree in the provincial metropolis last week. Also, they shot three persons on offering resistance, looted several houses, and robbed families, passersby, and motorists at gunpoint. Not enough, dozens of vehicles including cars and motorcycles were either snatched or stolen away from different parts of Lahore during the previous week.

Unidentified gunmen shot dead a bakery cashier near Omar Chowk in Green Town. The brazen robbery took place in the Green Town police precincts. The deceased cashier was identified as Abid Mahmood, 22, from Okara. Workers had just opened the bakery when the robbers got in and held up the guard.

Though the city police have got inducted new patrolling squad equipped with latest arms, heavy bikes and cars to swoop down on criminals, street crimes are still on the rise. Investigators said the cashier was shot and killed in front of his colleagues.

A murder-cum-robbery case was registered on the complaint of a relative of the dead. Investigators, in order to ascertain the identity of the bandits, were going through the CCTV footage taken from the cameras installed inside the bakery. However, no arrest was made yet.

Also, unidentified gunmen shot and killed a 30-year-old woman in Manga Mandi police area. The victim was later identified by police as Uzma, a mother of two children and resident of Kharian. According to investigators, the lady was targeted and killed by two unidentified men. The police were investigating the fatal shooting with no arrest made yet.

Two gunmen thrashed an old couple for making hue and cry during a house robbery attempt in Lahore’s Mughalpura area last week. The daylight dacoity took place at a small house in Sowari Bazaar on Shalimar Link Road in Mughalpura police limits. The robbers got away with cash and gold ornaments worth tens of thousands of rupees.

The “Smart Police Response Unit”, supposed to take action in minutes, responded to the help call after an hour.  Residents staged a protest demonstration against the police for their delayed response and made an appeal to the authorities concerns to take action to ensure their safety.

Sixty-five years old Hameeda Bibi told police two gunmen forced their entry into her house soon after Wasa employees left the place after ‘completing a survey’. The gunmen tortured the couple and took away cash and valuables. Police registered a case and started investigation. However, no arrest was made yet.

In separate incidents, robbers riding on motorcycles and equipped with pistols also looted families and motorists in Iqbal Town, Islampura, Sabzazar, Faisal Town, Shahdara, Green Town, Township, Sanda, Gulshan-e-Ravi, Mughalpura, and Baghbanpura police precincts.

Hundreds of Dolphins Force squads are seen on city roads in addition to dozens of police response units. These smart units are supposed to chase the fleeing bandits. But they are still struggling to control street crime or armed robberies which are on the rise in Lahore these days.