LAHORE   -   There were strong calls for justice after four people – including a man, his wife and their teenage girl –were killed and a boy injured in a shady encounter by Punjab’s CTD police on a highway in Sahiwal district.

The deceased were identified by relatives as residents of Lahore’s Kot Lakhpat area. They included grocery store owner Mohammad Khalil, 42, his wife Nabila, 38, their 13-year-old daughter Areeba and their friend, Zeeshan Javed.

Khalil was survived by his wounded son, Umair, and two daughters – who were also in the car that was allegedly spray with bullets by the police but luckily survived. Zeeshan was driving the car when the incident took place on the GT Road in Qadirabad area.

The police first described the victims as “kidnappers” and then as “terrorists”, who had links with Daesh and were involved in the killing of ISI officers as well as kidnapping of former PM Yousaf Raza Gilani’s son. They also claimed the deceased were killed in a “shootout” after they “attacked” the security personnel pursuing them.

But these claims were in stark contradiction of the information coming from the eyewitnesses, the statement of one of the injured children and the family sources of the deceased, who said the victims were on their way to attend a wedding in Burewala.

The apparent misstatements by the police led to a public uproar on social media and an intense coverage of the incident by the electronic media.

Feeling the heat, Prime Minister Imran Khan contacted Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar and sought a report. He directed the CM for a comprehensive and transparent investigation into the incident, PM Office media wing said in a press release.

The chief minister took notice of the incident, sought a report and later at night also visited the victim children at the hospital.

The Punjab Inspector General of Police formed a high-powered investigation team including intelligence officials to probe the occurrence.

The chief minister said the officials who fired at the vehicle and killed the victims were in custody of the CTD and being investigated. He announced that state would take care of the orphaned children.

 

Eyewitness accounts

Eyewitnesses strongly refuted the CTD’s version of events, telling DawnNewsTV that the three family members and their driver were shot dead in “cold blood by the police”.

They categorically stated that no weapon was recovered from the vehicle after the alleged shootout and the victims did not fire on the police party.

A video doing rounds on social media shows the crime scene and the bodies lying in the bullet-riddled car after the incident.

In another such video eyewitnesses and people present at the hospital can be seen suggesting that police shot the family members in cold blood.

They also can be seen saying that the CTD personnel initially abandoned the children at the crime scene and left. They returned after some time and shifted the children to a government-run hospital nearby.

 

 Victim boy’s statement to TV channels

The injured boy, who appeared to be around 10-years-old and had a gunshot wound in his leg, told the media that the deceased were his parents, teenage sister and his father’s friend - who was driving the car to Burewala.

He said they were going to the wedding of his uncle, named Rizwan, in Burewala. The boy also said their vehicle was pulled over at police officials’ order. When the policemen aimed guns at them for firing, his father asked them to take money from them and not kill them, he added.

 

Relatives’ statements

Relatives say the victims had nothing to do with militancy and they were killed wrongly. “They were going to attend a wedding party,” Jameel said.

He spoke to reporters in Lahore several hours after the CTD claimed that the so-called raid was “an intelligence based operation.”

“Where are the dead bodies? This is not justice,” said Jameel with tears rolling down his cheeks. He said he had contacted his brother Khalil but his phone was found switched off. “They (policemen) left the children at the nearby hospital but took away dead bodies, he said.

The family members left for Burewala from Lahore in a convoy of three cars on Friday evening. Hours later, one of the cars came under gun attack near Qadirabad while the others reached Burewala safely, he said.

In a video, a man who identified himself as an uncle of the children, said that several family members were going from Lahore to a village near Burewala in four vehicles to attend a wedding. He said he was travelling in another vehicle and lost contact with the deceased as their mobile phones were off.

He alleged that the CTD personnel tried to rob the victims as they were carrying cash, jewellery and other valuables, and then killed them.

  

Protest in Lahore

Relatives of the deceased in Lahore took to streets to express their anger as the news about the horrific killings reached here. They blocked one of the busiest roads that connects Lahore to Kasur by setting tyres on fire.

The protest demonstration on Ferozpur Road continued for several hours. It also caused worst kind of traffic mess in many parts of the provincial capital. Also, authorities suspended the metro bus service as protesters gathered near Chungi Amarsidhi to condemn the killings.

 

 Investigation

Punjab IGP Amjad Javed Saleemi has constituted a joint investigation team to investigate the Sahiwal incident.

According to a press release issued from the central police office, DIG Zulfiqar Hameed will head the JIT whereas members of Intelligence ISI, MI, and IB will be part of this JIT. JIT will submit its report within three days after completing the investigation.

Earlier, the IGP sought enquiry report of the incident from RPO Sahiwal and CTD. The Punjab CTD submitted its initial report regarding the incident to the IGP.

  

CTD version

According to the report, CTD team did a joint intelligence-based operation in which four terrorists linked to defunct organisation Daesh were killed whereas weapons and explosive material have been recovered from their possession.

According to the details, CTD team tried to intercept the terrorists who were riding a car and a motorcycle near Sahiwal toll plaza but the terrorists opened fire on CTD team, a shootout ensued. When firing stopped, four persons, including two women, were found dead with the firing of their accomplices. Three terrorists fled from the scene.

CTD sources said that this operation was in continuation of the operation conducted in Faisalabad on January 16. CTD was tracking remaining terrorists of Red Book namely Shahid Jabbar and Abdul Rehman.

Saturday morning, intelligence was received that the remaining terrorists were travelling towards Sahiwal with arms and explosives. They used to travel with families to avoid police checking.

They were warned to surrender but they started firing. Terrorists namely Shahid Jabbar, Abdul Rehman and a third unidentified man fled the scene on motorcycle.

CTD recovered suicide jackets, hand grenades, rifles etc. CTD is chasing the three fleeing terrorists. Further investigation has been launched.

According to sources, terrorist Zeeshan was killed in Sahiwal operation and terrorist Adeel Hafeez was killed in Faisalabad operation whereas Shahid Jabbar and Abdul Rehman fled the scene.

This is a Daesh network which killed three ISI officers in Multan, one police officer in Faisalabad and also kidnapped American National Warren Weinstein and Ali Haider Gilani son of former Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani. This network had also killed dozens of people in blasts and firing. It was most dangerous network of Daesh in Punjab, according to CTD.