Millat Park shooting: Forensic report challenges police claim

LAHORE - The city police yesterday claimed to have arrested four suspects of Millat Park shooting and got physical remand from a court.

Three men and a woman were produced before the media at a news conference, although no evidence was given to substantiate their claim. It remains unclear whether the suspects in custody were the same who killed five people and wounded another man during a shop robbery attempt.

The forensic report issued by the Punjab forensic science agency on Tuesday, also did not confirm that the men in police custody were in fact the shooters. It only stated that the weapons “sent by police” for forensic tests were similar to those used in the shooting.

Ironically, the names of two suspects were mentioned in the forensic report but the provincial forensic science agency carried out test of the firearms sent by police. It categorically says that 9mm and 30-bore pistols were used in the shooting.

Police sources said the arrested suspects were involved in armed robberies. However, investigators had no evidence to establish their involvement in the Millat Park mass shooting.

The arrests come a few days after Punjab Chief Minister Shehbaz Sahrif warned the officers that they would be removed from key posts if they failed to unearth the killers involved in the five murder case.

Senior police officers told reporters in Lahore at a planned news conference that the case was traced and the culprits were arrested.

The arrested “robbers-cum-killers” were named by police as Zaheer Abbas alias Basoo, Zahid Ali, Jahangir alias Bhola, and a lady, Umme-e-Farwa. As per police, the bandits are residents of Pindi Bhattian, district Hafizabad.  A senior police officer also cast doubt on the accuracy of the police claims stating that a “third party” should be involved to interrogate the criminals. “This is very interesting and the case could be made a test case. And everything will be clear if the case is investigated by a joint investigation team,” the officer said, requesting his name not be mentioned.

The police made the claim only one week after they announced Rs1.5 million as reward for “useful information” that would help police identity the killers. Citizens were requested to contact the police if they had any solid information about the most wanted criminals.

During yesterday’s press briefing, the police officers did not share any details with media about the raids in which the suspects were arrested. Also, they could not explain where the bandits stayed for days after the shooting and from where they were arrested.

According to police, the bandits used to live in rented accommodations. Police also claimed that three house owners were also arrested in connection with the case. The house owners, Bilal Siddique, Adnan Shaukat, and Muhammad Rizwan were taken into custody for violating the Punjab temporary residence act 2015 which binds the landlords to pass on information about their tenants to the local police. CCPO Muhammad Amin Wains flanked by DIG (Operations) Dr Haider Ashraf and SSP (Investigations) Hassan Mushtaq Sukhera addressed the press conference at the Police Lines Qila Gujjar Singh.

The officer lauded the efforts of police teams for capturing the robbers-cum-killers within days. According to the CCPO, the police shortlisted 229 suspects and arrested the “genuine culprits” by using scientific techniques.

“The bandits were wearing masks when they carried out robbery at a shop in the congested locality,” the CCPO told the media and added some passersby witnessed the face of one of the bandits as his mask fell on ground when the victims offered resistance.

The city police chief stated it was a “big challenge” for the police to trace the desperate gangsters. Special teams of Lahore Police and CIA were given the task to trace the criminals, the officer added.

Wains further claimed that the arrested bandits were involved in several cases of armed robberies and dacoity-cum-murder. They were the members of an inter-district gang and wanted to Gujranwala, Hafizabad, Sheikhupura, and Lahore police.

Two gunmen shot six people including a shopkeeper and his son on offering resistance during a shop robbery attempt in Pakki Thathi area of Millat Park on November 19. Four victims died on the spot while the fifth expired in the hospital the next day. The sixth was admitted to a hospital with bullet injuries. Two passerby and bicycle mechanic were among the victims.

The deceased were identified by police as Muhammad Amjad, 45; his 22-year-old son Tanzeel Amjad, Muhammad Abbas, 30; Farhan, 30; and Saleemud Din, 55. The sixth victim Gohar Sarfraz, 40, was admitted to the hospital in serious condition. The shooting took place at the Parwaz pan-shop in the low-income neighbourhood.

The fatal shooting triggered panic across the provincial metropolis and also exposed police patrolling system in Lahore. In addition to several police response units, there are hundreds of Dolphin squads who are otherwise supposed to chase the fleeing bandits.

Earlier, the police failed to meet the three-day deadline set by CM Shehbaz Sahrif regarding arrest of the culprits involved the Millat Park incident.