LAHORE: A top Pakistani minister said on Tuesday an initial investigation had revealed that officials from the provincial counter-terrorism department (CTD) were responsible for the killing of an innocent couple and their daughter on Saturday during an encounter with a suspected militant.
Last week, counter-terrorism officers from Pakistan's Punjab province opened fire at a car near the town of Sahiwal, killing a couple, their twelve-year-old daughter and a man called Zeeshan Javed they said was an Islamic State leader involved in abductions and killings.
Officials initially described the event as a successful operation against Daesh-linked militants but their narrative began to unravel when the couple’s three children who survived the shooting said the family had been traveling from Punjab’s capital city of Lahore to attend a wedding in the south of the province when they were stopped near Sahiwal by authorities who opened fire at their car. Their grocery store owner father Muhammad Khalil, mother Nabila, 12-year-old sister Areeba and family friend Zeeshan Javed were killed on the spot.
A joint investigation team headed by Punjab Additional Inspector General Ejaz Shah and comprising officials from three leading intelligence agencies was set up to investigate the shooting which has sparked nationwide outrage over extrajudicial killings.
"Initial report of the joint investigation team reveals that the CTD officials were responsible for killing Khalil and his family, who were innocent," Punjab law minister Raja Basharat told reporters in the city of Lahore. "However, investigation about Zeeshan Javed’s killing is still underway and we need some time for further probe.”
He said the government had removed several top provincial police officers from their posts, including the additional inspector general operations and the additional inspector general and deputy inspector general of the counter-terrorism department. Five CTD officials involved in the killings had been ordered to be presented before an anti-terrorism court immediately.
The minister however said that "the operation [against Javed] was 100 percent correct," referring to the killing of Javed, whom authorities insist was a local Daesh leader.
Speaking to reporters earlier in the day, the Punjab Additional Inspector General Shah said that the investigation report presented today could not be considered a "final report", adding that a comprehensive report of an incident of this nature could not be completed in two or three days.
Staged encounters – a practice where police claim the victim was killed in a gunfight though they were summarily executed – are not uncommon in Pakistan. Abusers are rarely held to account.
The CTD’s version of events, as recorded in the police first information report, says officials from the department signalled for a white Suzuki car and a motorcycle to stop near the Sahiwal Toll Plaza on Saturday: “First, the terrorists riding the motorcycle started firing at the CTD officials who retaliated with firing too. Once the firing stopped, four people were found dead in the car while three terrorists had fled the scene."
But a cellphone camera recording by a passerby showed that a car carrying seven people including children was intercepted by CTD officials on the main highway near Sahiwal who then sprayed the vehicle with bullets.
Local news media also contradicted CTD officials and reported, citing eyewitnesses, that the traveling family never opened fire on the police and no weapons were recovered from their vehicle.
On Tuesday, relatives and neighbours of the deceased family blocked the main Ferozpur Road in Lahore and did not allow the city's metro bus service to run.
“We have blocked the road and will not leave the place till the government meets all our demands," Khalil’s nephew Qasim Butt told Arab News. "We want the same action [death] against the 16 [CTD] officials involved in the murder and their high-ups too who ordered them to carry out this brutality.”
“We strongly protest the portrayal of Zeeshan as a terrorist by the government as he was a thorough gentleman and thousands of people can stand as witnesses for his character," Butt said. "If he was a terrorist, why had the government recruited his brother Ehtisham in the Dolphin Police Force of Lahore," Butt added, referring to media reports that the alleged Daesh-linked militant's brother had been hired by a local police force.