— Punjab additional home secretary appears before Senate body, says CTD acted in haste to avert ‘terror threat’
–Senator shows distrust in police-led JIT handling the case
ISLAMABAD: The Punjab government on Wednesday acknowledged that the “method of encounter” followed by Counter Terrorism Department (CTD) in Sahiwal was wrong, as the officials should have checked the vehicle before opening fire.
Punjab Additional Home Secretary Fazeel Asghar appeared before the Senate Standing Committee on Human Rights to brief the Senate body over the suspicious encounter by the anti-terror squad wherein four people, including three members of a family, lost their lives on Jan 20.
Though a joint investigation team, comprising police officers, has been investigating the incident, the opposition parties and families of the victims have expressed distrust in the probe team. The Senate body on human rights had also objected to the idea and demanded a judicial commission to probe the incident.
After the killings, CTD officials had initially claimed those killed in the shooting were terrorists belonging to the proscribed Daesh (ISIS) militant organisation.
The CTD had spokesperson identified one of them, Zeeshan, as an active member of the banned outfit, explaining that the terrorists used to travel with families to avoid police checking.
The team was conducting a joint intelligence-based operation on the basis of information from the CTD and a sensitive agency, the spokesperson had said, adding that they had to retaliate when they came under fire from those in the car.
The next day, the CTD had changed its story, saying the force was actually following Zeeshan — the man behind the wheel of the car that was showered with bullets — because he was a facilitator of terrorists, and regretted the killing of Khalil and his wife and daughter.
TERROR THREAT PROMPTED ENCOUNTER:
In a briefing to the Senate committee, Asghar informed the committee that the vehicle in which the victims were travelling in was seen on a camera and immediately reported to law enforcement agencies. He added that security forces were alerted to a possible terror threat before the incident and the “encounter was initiated due to the alert”.
The provincial additional home secretary explained that Khalil and his family were innocent and the question of whether occupants of the vehicle had fired would be answered by the joint investigation team probing the incident.
Asghar informed that Adeel and Usman, two terror suspects, were seen with Zeeshan along with a vehicle in a photo on January 13. He said that Adeel and Usman were killed in Faisalabad by law enforcement agencies but Zeeshan was able to escape.
He said that data recovered from Adeel’s phone showed selfies taken by Zeeshan and a SIM card recovered pinpointed the location close to Zeeshan’s residence.
Asghar said that according to a call intercepted from Afghanistan, it was mentioned that Usman and Adeel’s death would be avenged with a terror attack. He claimed that the call was made by Daesh. Asghar then added that authorities on January 17 seized boxes of explosives from Misri Shah.
Senate Committee on Human Rights Chairman Senator Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar mentioned that one of the children had mentioned that their father had begged the police to take money in order to let them go.
Asghar responded that the child’s statement may have been influenced by grief.
Senator Barrister Saif responded that the child’s statement over the matter was being taken lightly and added that police-mandated JIT must have erased all evidence in the case.
“Where are the jackets and explosives that the [CTD] claimed to have found [from the car]? If these [objects] have not been presented still then it means the evidence has been altered,” Saif inquired.
“If your purpose was only to kill, then it means you have become a killing squad,” he added.
The committee in its last session had also demanded the government to form a judicial commission to probe the incident and directed interior secretary to investigate why ministers changed their statements.
FAMILY REFUSES TO ATTEND IDENTIFICATION PARADE:
A family member of one of the victims of the Sahiwal shooting also refused to participate in an identification parade organised by the joint investigation team probing the incident.
Jalil, the brother of shooting victim Khalil, and his son Umair were summoned to Sahiwal by the JIT in addition to other witnesses mentioned in the first information report.
They were called to help the JIT identify the suspects in an identification parade that was supposed to be held at 10 am on Wednesday. However, Jalil and other witnesses refused to participate and questioned the JIT.
“We do not trust this JIT at all. The JIT has only worked to damage our case. Why must we go through the identification process again? These people know well who the killers are but they just don’t want to act against them,” Jalil said.
On Tuesday, family members of the victims appeared before Senate Standing Committee on Interior over the matter. They demanded the formation of a judicial commission to probe the killing and refer the case to military courts. They have also said that they are dissatisfied with the joint investigation team (JIT) investigating the incident.
“We are not satisfied with the JIT’s investigation,” the mother of Zeeshan, one of the victims, told the committee.
“The police that are investigating [the incident] are the ones who committed the killings,” she added, while requesting the prime minister to provide justice. “All we want is justice.”