LAHORE, Pakistan (Reuters) - Pakistani authorities have removed the head of the counter terrorism police in the province of Punjab and will charge five police with murder over a shooting last week in which an innocent family was killed.
The incident on Saturday saw counter-terrorism officials open fire on a car they said was being used by an Islamic State leader in the province, Zeeshan Javed. He was killed along with three passengers - grocery store owner Mohammad Khalil, his wife and their 12-year-old daughter.
However, the official account of the incident was disputed by witnesses, including Khalil’s three other children, who survived the attack, and discredited by video footage widely circulated on social media.
“The operation was conducted with criminal negligence by the CTD officials. The CTD also misled the government about facts... and kept changing statements,” said Punjab Information Minister Fayyazul Hasan Chohan.
The incident, the latest in a long series of episodes of alleged police brutality, sparked protests in Lahore and drew condemnation from politicians including Prime Minister Imran Khan, who promised a clean-up of the Punjab police.
Punjab Law Minister Raja Basharat told reporters the provincial government had removed the head of the Counter Terrorism Department (CTD) and three other officials who will all face disciplinary action.
The five officers who shot at the car in Sahiwal town would be charged with murder and tried in an anti-terrorism court.
Basharat said CTD’s claim that Islamic State suspect Zeeshan had shot first at counter-terrorism officers was not true, but added that there was evidence he was an Islamic State operative in touch with other militants in Afghanistan.
“I admit that the operation was ill-planned and was conducted in an unprofessional way. But the fact remains that Zeeshan Javed was connected to a terror network,” Basharat said.
He said the network was involved in the kidnapping of Warren Weinstein, a U.S. aid worker abducted in Lahore in 2011, and in the kidnapping of former prime minister Yousaf Raza Gilani’s son, Ali Haider Gilani, who was released in Afghanistan in 2016 after three years in captivity.
Chohan said the Punjab government would bear all expenses of Khalil’s children till they complete their education.
However the family itself was not satisfied. “We want registration of murder cases against 16 officials involved in the murder and their high-ups too who ordered them (to commit)this brutality,” Khalil’s nephew Qasim Butt told Reuters.
“We strongly protest against 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,” he said.
The incident comes a year after police killed aspiring model Naqibullah Mehsud in Karachi, spawning the ethnic-rights Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM), which has held protests across the country with a special focus on extra-judicial killings.
An inquiry into Mehsud’s killing, which was initially described by police as a shoot-out with terrorist suspects, concluded the incident was an extra-judicial killing.
Reporting by Mubasher Bukhari; writing by James MacKenzie and Drazen Jorgic; Editing by Gareth Jones