Three family members — husband, wife and their teenage daughter — and their friend were killed in what the Punjab police officials called a shootout with “terrorists” near Sahiwal.
The couple’s minor son sustained a bullet injury while two other daughters remained safe. The family was travelling in a car when the alleged encounter — which the Counter Terrorism Department (CTD) officials later termed an ‘intelligence-based operation’ — took place on GT Road in Qadirabad area near Sahiwal.
According to CTD, the operation was conducted on information about the presence of suspected terrorists, provided by the department and an intelligence agency — the name of which was not specified.
Eyewitnesses, however, strongly refuted the CTD’s version, 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.
According to the details provided by police, the CTD Sahiwal officials signalled a car and a motorcycle to stop near the Sahiwal Toll Plaza.
“The [alleged] terrorists retaliated by firing at the CTD officials following which a shootout ensued. Once the firing stopped, four people were found dead, reportedly as a result of firing by their own accomplices, while three terrorists had fled the scene,” read the CTD statement.
As per the CTD statement, suspects identified as Shahid Jabbar and Abdul Rehman were travelling towards Sahiwal and were reportedly in possession of arms and explosives.
“They used to travel with families to avoid police checking. Today, they were warned to surrender but they resorted to firing,” read the statement, adding that Shahid Jabbar, Abdul Rehman, and another unidentified suspect fled from the scene on a motorcycle. “Recoveries include suicide jackets, hand grenades, rifles, etc.”
‘Family killed in cold blood’
The details of the incident as narrated by the children in the car and eyewitnesses contradict the CTD’s version of what happened.
A video of the crime scene, available with DawnNewsTV, shows the bodies lying in the bullet-riddled car after the firing incident.
In another video, also doing rounds on social media, eyewitnesses and people present at the hospital can be seen suggesting that police shot the family members in cold blood and following the incident, the CTD personnel initially abandoned the wounded children at the crime scene and left.
They alleged that it was only after some time that they returned to the crime scene and shifted the three injured children to a government-run hospital nearby.
The injured boy Umair, who appears to be around 10-years-old and can be seen with a gunshot wound in his leg, while speaking to the media identified the deceased as his parents, teenage sister and his father’s “friend” who was driving the car to Burewala.
In another 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.
The deceased were identified by relatives as residents of the Kot Lakhpat area in the suburbs of Lahore. They include grocery store owner Mohammad Khalil, 42, his wife Nabila, 38, their 13-year-old daughter Areeba and their friend, Zeeshan Javed, who was driving the car and police said he was on the country’s wanted terrorist list.
Khalil is survived by his wounded son Umair and two daughters aged below five years.
A post-mortem examination of the deceased was carried out, DawnNewsTV reported. According to the doctors, the victims received bullet injuries in their heads, necks and stomach areas.
The bodies of the three family members have been handed over to their relatives.
Later in the day, family members of the victims and area residents resorted to protesting and blocked Ferozpur road in Lahore.
PM seeks report
Prime Minister Imran Khan contacted Punjab Chief Minister Sardar Usman Buzdar and sought a report in connection with the Sahiwal incident.
The prime minister also directed to hold a transparent and detailed inquiry into the incident to uncover the facts.
Later in the day, Buzdar ordered the arrest of the CTD officials involved in the tragic incident, DawnNewsTV reported.
Earlier, Punjab Information Minister Fayyazul Hassan Chohan said that the reality of the fatal incident would become clear only after investigation.
The CTD officials took action against the suspects on a tip-off from an alleged terrorist who had been arrested by the intelligence agencies in Karachi, the minister said.
Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry said the Punjab government would soon provide a detailed account of the incident. “The CTD officials say that the people killed in the incident were suspected terrorists,” Chaudhry said.
Meanwhile, the Punjab Inspector General (IG) has announced the formation of a joint investigation team (JIT) to probe the incident.
The provincial police chief said that DIG Zulfikar Hameed will head the JIT, which comprises officials from the Inter-Services Intelligence, Intelligence Bureau and Military Intelligence. The team has been asked to submit its report within three days.