Long drawn-out affair: Gunman keeps capital on tenterhooks

Sikandar who kept traffic and business activities on the point in Blue Area suspended for many hours. PHOTO: AFP

Sikandar who kept traffic and business activities on the point in Blue Area suspended for many hours. PHOTO: AFP

ISLAMABAD: In a bizarre turn of events in the federal capital on Thursday, an armed man holding his own family hostage embroiled security agencies in a tense standoff near the city’s red zone.

The five-hour-long standoff ended in an odder fashion when Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) leader Zamurd Khan botched an attempt to take down the gunman, only to prompt police snipers to shoot and incapacitate him.

The drama began when the gunman, identified as Sikandar, managed to breach the security cordon and enter Islamabad’s Jinnah Avenue –just a few kilometres away from the red zone which houses key government installations – in a rented car at around 6pm. Armed with an automatic and a semi-automatic weapon, he resorted to aerial fire after he was stopped by traffic police for driving on the wrong side of the road.

Using his wife and two children as human shields, the gunman kept police at bay. From time to time, he resorted to aerial fire. Within minutes, police blocked his exits and prepared to square off with Sikandar.

“He demanded the immediate imposition of Shariah law,” a police official told The Express Tribune after SSP Dr Muhammad Rizwan started negotiations with the gunman.

“He looked like he was trained gunman, but appeared to be somewhat out of his senses,” he added.

Giving live interviews to news channels via cell phone, Sikandar and his wife, identified as Kanwal, said they were unhappy with the new government and they wanted an Islamic system of governance in place. The gunman also demanded a safe passage for himself and his family.

Kanwal, shuttled between him and the police, conveying his ‘evolving’ demands. When asked to name a person he was ready to negotiate with, Sikandar said he would only talk to legislators. The police could not accept the demand.

“We did not want to harm the woman and the children… we were trying to convince Sikandar to surrender,” said the police official. He said the interior minister had instructed the police to avoid the use of force if the situation could be resolved through talks.

Throughout the standoff, Sikandar appeared calm. At one point he was seen drinking energy drinks and smoking while sitting inside his car. Even when outside the vehicle, he did precious little to find cover or prevent himself from being shot by police sharpshooters.

The scene, meanwhile, attracted hundreds of spectators, eager to watch the drama unfold. Despite repeated attempts by the police – and the gunman’s own demands that the crowd be removed – police failed to disperse the bystanders till the culmination of incident. During the standoff, police also placed concrete blocks and tents at various spots to obscure the public’s view in preparation for a possible operation against Sikandar.

“We are assessing the situation and will resolve it patiently,” Islamabad Deputy Commissioner Amir Ali Ahmed told The Express Tribune around 9:30pm. An hour later, reports emerged that the interior ministry had given the go-ahead for an operation to capture the gunman.

Around the same time – after three rounds of negotiations had broken down and Sikandar refused to lay down his arms – PPP leader Zamurd Khan reached the scene. Approaching Sikandar under the pretext of a final bid to negotiate, he lunged at the gunman but failed to grab hold of him and slipped instead.

Sikandar rushed away, but while he had his guns pointed in the PPP leader’s direction, he did not open fire. Moments later, he attempted to surrender but police sharpshooters opened fire, hitting his lower body and abdomen.

Police subsequently took him into custody and moved him to the Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences. According to hospital officials, a bullet pierced through Sikandar’s lungs and his condition was critical.

His wife and children, who received minor injuries, were also moved to Pims for medical treatment. A police official also received minor injuries during the final showdown.

Inspector General of Police Sikandar Hayat told the media that the police would only be able to comment on the gunman’s mental condition after a medical examination. He added it was too early to speculate about the gunman’s possible links with any militant outfit.

Traced back to a neighbourhood in Hafizabad, police said Sikandar and his family were staying at a hotel in Aabpara area of the capital. He rented a chauffeur-driven car from the hotel as well.

According to police, before executing his ‘planned’ stand-off, the gunman held the driver – identified as Amjad – at gunpoint and directed him to jump a police checkpoint.

Amjad in his statement to the police said he stopped, left the car at a suitable distance from the police check post on Jinnah Avenue and fled. Police took into protective custody at the beginning of the drama.

Police, meanwhile, did not comment on the route Sikandar might have taken to reach Jinnah Avenue. He would have passed at least two police pickets en route.

Source: The Express Tribune

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