F-8 courts attack: Conflicting accounts about judge’s killing

An edited version of this article was published in The Express Tribune on Mar 8, 2014.

Islamabad – Anti-terrorism Court (ATC) judge Atiqur Rehman does not believe in access to information. The media are barred from entry to his court for coverage.

So it is difficult to independently verify what went on in Rehman’s court on Friday when police produced Babar Hussain, the security guard who police and interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar have alleged to have “accidentally” shot Judge Rafaqat Awan.

Awan, an Additional District and Sessions Judge, is one of the 12 people who were killed during a gun-and-suicide siege of the Islamabad district courts by armed militants on Monday.

What is confirmed, however, is that the ATC judge sent Babar, who was taken in to police custody on Thursday, on a three-day physical remand and ordered police to produce him in court on March 10.

But some people familiar with the ATC proceedings claimed Babar, a Security Division gunman who had provided Awan security since January 2014, cried in court and pleaded for his life.

Other sources said Babar recanted an earlier statement to a joint investigation committee in which, according to police, he had allegedly admitted that “two bullets were fired accidentally” from his gun while he and the judge were trying to stop terrorists from entering the judge’s chamber.

Yet some others claimed Babar told the court he had requested the judge to “run for his life” and the deceased judge had replied “if we have to die, we shall die together.”

Police did not confirm these reports when contacted for comments.

Police were not expected to confirm them, not at least by the lawyers’ community, which has publicly criticized minister Nisar and high-ranking police officials for a “security lapse” and poor response to the F-8 incident.

On Friday afternoon, after they had offered funeral prayers-in-absentia for the martyrs of the incident, lawyers criticized the interior minister for fixing blame on the guard.

“The minister, Inspector General of Police and Senior Superintendent Police Operations are equally responsible for equally responsible for the security failure,” one lawyer said. “They cannot blame one junior security officer and be done with it.”

“The police’s job is to investigate the matter and present its findings,” said one senior police official present at the F-8 kutchery on Friday afternoon to supervise security arrangements. “If the lawyers do not accept the findings, it is their prerogative.”

Babar’s name surfaced on Thursday night when minister Nisar used the floor of the National Assembly to announce Babar had accidentally shot Awan dead.

Police later claimed both the judge and the guard were holding the door of the judge’s chamber from the inside to prevent the attackers from barging in when the guard’s gun went off.

The public skepticism about the judge falling victim to his own guard’s bullets is fueled by the apparent contradiction in statements by the police, statements by the minister, an autopsy report and eyewitness accounts.

The minister had said the guard accidentally fired from a “9mm” gun. But, according to sources, the security guards are typically issued 38-bore revolver.

Awan’s autopsy report did not identify the type of the bullet but it predicted that one of his entry wounds were from a bullet fired from at most five feet. Police, however, stated the bullets accidentally fired by the guard hit the judge “point blank.”

Previous second-hand eyewitness accounts had said the judge was shot directly by the militants and an autopsy report had indicated three wounds on the judge’s body.

Police also interrogated some members of Awan’s courtroom staff on Thursday night, according to sources. A police officer also said a spring of a Kalashnikov was found from one of the two blast sites inside the kutchery on Friday.

Security at the Gates

Intelligence sources have suggested the body scanners installed by the Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT) administration for security at the district courts are rendered ineffective because of a metal shed placed on top of each scanner. The shed, which is shaped like a slanting roof to possibly protect against rain, interferes with the working of the scanner, the sources said.

Responding to reports that the administration had rented the scanners and repackaged some old scanners, lawyers said if adequate security is not provided to them on a permanent basis, they will launch a protest against the government.

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