Jinnah Avenue stand-off: Gunman keeps capital on tenterhooks

An edited and updated version of this article was first published in The Express Tribune on Aug 16, 2013.

Islamabad – In a major security lapse in the federal capital, an armed man, who demanded enforcement of Shariah Law, caused a stand-off with police that lasted for around five hours on Jinnah Avenue, within two kilometers of the Parliament House and the Presidency.

Police moved in around 11pm to capture the gun-totting man, who was identified as Sikandar and was accompanied by a woman and two young children.

Sikandar’s capture was made possible when, in a bizarre turn of events, Pakistan Peoples Party leader Zammarud Khan was allowed to walk over to Sikandar and his family to negotiate with them.

Khan deceptively but heroically lunged at Sikandar, slipped in the process and tried to drag Sikandar by clutching at his leg. Sikandar hopped out of Khan’s grasp and backed away but did not shoot at Khan. In the meantime, Khan ran away grabbing Sikandar’s daughter and policemen rushed into capture Sikandar alive.

Earlier, Sikandar had started aerial firing around 6pm after a traffic police car stopped him from running away from a police picket near the heavily guarded D-chowk on the avenue.

The drama which followed quickly turned into a media circus and a public spectacle that continued till late in the night.

With his rental black Toyota Corolla parked in the middle of Jinnah Avenue’s east bound lanes, facing away from the D-chowk, the man walked boisterously waving and firing from a submachine gun held in one hand and another automatic weapon in the other.

Sikandar and Kanwal gave live interviews to TV channels through a cell phone from the car, claiming they were unhappy with the new elected government and they wanted an Islamic system of governance in Pakistan.

Islamabad Police tried to negotiate with the man — traced back to a neighbourhood in Hafizabad by the phone calls he was making and the plates on his car — through the woman, who claimed to be his wife and was identified as Kanwal. The woman appeared to be on Sikandar’s side.

The police failed to control the public which had amassed near the scene. It took the police three hours to cordon off the area a hundred feet from the car in either direction using ropes. They later placed some concrete blocks and also put up tents to block the view.

“We are examining the situation and we are going to assess it and handle it patiently,” said Islamabad’s Deputy Commissioner Amir Ali Ahmed told The Express Tribune around 9:30pm.

An hour later, reports emerged that the Interior Ministry, which until then had reportedly told police not to harm the children, had given the go-ahead for an operation for

Around the same time, after at least three rounds of negotiation, in which Sikandar refused to drop his weapons and surrender, the Senior Superintendent of Police (Operations) Muhammad Rizwan broke his silence to the media. Rizwan said requested journalists and common people, who at some points strayed within a hundred feet of Sikandar’s car, to stay at least 300 yards away.

Police did not comment on the route Sikandar might have taken to reach Jinnah Avenue, but he would have passed at least two police pickets to get there.

This is the second time in less than a week when an armed extremist belonging to Punjab had got in to Islamabad. On Eid Day, a suspected suicide bomber from Chiniot tried to blow himself up inside a Shia Mosque on the capital’s outskirts but failed and was killed.

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